Rating: R (Warnings include: crude language, alcohol, mentions of death, blood, and dismemberment)
A simple cardboard square made up the field of battle for a war manned by wooden effigies. Faceless pawns and deformed bishops, moving towers and horse idols dueling to the beat of a clock; all for the purpose of defending an all powerful queen and useless king. Chess is considered a dance of minds enjoying the make-believe destruction of metaphorical kingdoms of light and darkness…
It wasn’t as if Arthur had planned to seek out Alfred after school. He was a busy student council president for a large high school, after all, and the last thing on his mind was taking time out of his schedule to go and watch the dumb jock play basketball.
No, he had just been taking a different route out of the school this evening and happened to stumble upon Alfred in the gym. So what if his new route out of the building was actually in the opposite direction to the parking lot? He just had to stretch his legs after sitting his desk for so long going over paperwork, that was all.
Granted, hiding behind the door of the gym and watching Alfred play basketball may look suspicious to an outsider, Arthur would be the first to admit to that. But the truth was, he just didn’t want to disturb Alfred’s practice, so peering out from behind the door was really the polite thing to do. He had nothing to hide, and wasn’t at all shy of the popular new student, it was just a matter of common decency.
“Arthur? Is that you?”
Shit, he’d been spotted.
Arthur jumped out from behind the doorway, his eyes darting anywhere but at Alfred, who came strolling towards him with a friendly wave of his hand.
“Oh, uh, Jones. Hello. What a surprise to see you here so late.”
Although now that Arthur thought about it, he may have overheard Alfred tell one of his friends earlier that he’d be staying late after school. Not that Arthur had retained that information or made plans around it. He just happened to remember it now, out of the blue.
“I wanted some practice since our new house doesn’t have a hoop outside yet,” said Alfred, an easy smile on his face.
Arthur found it off-putting. Not because that warm sunset shining through the gym windows made Alfred’s smile glow and skin and hair turn to gold, but because the idiot was totally oblivious that he was breaking school rules.
“You’re not allowed to be here after school unless you’re accompanied by a teacher or some other school official,” Arthur explained, pompously, and if there was a bite to his words it was only because he was too tired for this, not because Alfred’s bright blue gaze made him nervous.
To his credit, Alfred looked genuinely apologetic. “Oh, I’m really sorry, I didn’t know,” he said. “It wasn’t like that at my last school, but I guess the coach would bend the rules for me a little. I should pack up and go, then.”
Arthur couldn’t help but feel bad. Of course, it was only natural when Alfred slumped off dejectedly like that to get his ball and backpack. It really had nothing to do with the fact that Arthur hated to see a frown cloud the American’s ever-happy, clueless face.
“Well…” he said slowly, and Alfred stopped and turned around, hopefully. “Since I’m student council president and I count as a school official, you could stay as long I’m here to accompany you.”
Alfred beamed, happily, and Arthur stood up straighter, preening a little - but only out of pride that he could help a fellow student.
“Really?!” Alfred asked, excitedly. “You’d stay with me? I promise I won’t be long!”
Arthur nodded and took a seat on the bleachers nearby. “It’s only because I know how much everyone is looking forward to the basketball game next week and I want everyone to be on top form so we have a strong team,” he added.
Alfred grinned at him, and Arthur blushed. He couldn’t quite explain that one away, either.
“Sure it is,” Alfred teased, dribbling the ball lazily as he and Arthur eyed each other. “It’s really good of you to be so selfless, Mr. President. But It’s a shame you never think about yourself because I’d have loved to take you out for ice-cream after my practice.” Arthur went rigid in his seat. The way Alfred was practically smouldering at him, it was impossible to deny that he was flirting. “Of course, someone as busy and selfless as you wouldn’t dream of treating yourself to a night off, right?”
Arthur was very, very good at denial. It was possibly his greatest skill, even beyond his good grades, hard-work and dedication. But even after four weeks of pretending he had no interest in Alfred F. Jones, Arthur found he couldn’t turn down an offer like this.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, Jones. Everyone deserves a night off once in a while. And ice-cream would be a good way to pay me back for staying with with you so you can practice now. Seems like a fair trade to me.”
Not that he had to be totally honest about everything just yet, of course.
Arthur looked so cute when he was on his knees, teeth bared, and chained like a rabid dog. His usual pale skin flushed with rage and his green eyes dark with promises of retribution. Pride was a powerful thing, yet easily injured and so much fun to crush. The thought made her giggle, as she nudged the tip of her boot beneath his chin, forcing his head up.
“I always wanted a pet. I think you’ll do just fine,” she purred and took a long metal crock screw from the table beside her, slowly twisting it into the bottle in her hand. “I think we should celebrate our new relationship.”
“Go to hell,” Arthur curtly snapped. It only made her smile wider before popping the cork and aiming the subsequent burst of froth over her captive’s head.
“Such a cute pet. I think that’s what I’ll rename you – Pet,” she remarked and rubbed her boot beneath Arthur’s chin. “Consider yourself baptized.”
Club Thorax. As the name suggested, the interior resembled being inside the hollowed out chest of a beast, with the long since decayed heart continuing to beat for the pleasure of its defilers. A constant pulse shook the walls and deafening music kept the crazed mob dancing into oblivion. The scene was tinged with alternating crimson, indigo, and acid green, punctuated by convulsing strobe lights that turned fluid movement into dizzying snapshots. It was a chaotic saturnalia for the senses, with everything from the cloying smell of human exertion to the overwhelming oppressive heat of so many bodies in one place. Even the heavy taste of alcohol and more illicit poisons in the air was intoxicating, though such things never reached the upper balcony.
Comfortable. It was a simple word that he had never much cared for, but perhaps the best word for describing his present life. He could be honest in saying he had lived in both rags and riches over his many years, but what he had now was something he hadn’t experienced before. World affairs, politics, and even the current social unrest plaguing his population aside, there was a kind of unspoken contentment when lying here…and it was only ever here.
Four unremarkable walls in an unremarkable room, furnished with items that had been chosen more so for necessity than sentiment. The pine dresser, unmatching mahogany bedside tables, and the wooden desk hidden beneath mounds of unsorted paperwork, accompanied by a chair that functioned more like a coat rack; it was all just so…forgettable. Even the bed, adorned with nothing but simple linens and no decoration to speak of, was just another requisite for the makings of a bedroom.
But it was his bedroom, their bedroom when travels abroad were possible. They were only two people who had ever slept in this room and this bed. The only people who ever used these sheets or hid personal items in the drawers of the bedside tables, and the only people who walked barefoot on the carpet or stored clothes in the dresser and over the chair. The curtains over the windows were only ever opened or closed by their hands, just as the door was never locked unless they willed it. They were the only forces with the power to alter anything in this place. It was a sanctuary beyond a world they couldn’t control…a world Arthur, at least, had tried to control lifetimes ago only to discover how powerless he really was.
However, in this room…in this refuge there were no expectations or surprises. There were no enemies to fight and no allies to impress. There was only a simple room with simple fixtures, a place for everything and everything in its place. There was a smell to it that never changed; the scent of Alfred’s same old detergent and same shampoo, with his same aftershave he never needed but still used. In the morning the smell was all over him and there was almost always a subtle soreness between his legs…but a quiet pleasure in the memories of what caused it.
Even the few mornings he woke without the ache, the smell and memories of the night before were never disappointing.
A part of him resented such happiness in this temporary domestication, as it only ever happened the few times of the year he came to visit Alfred in America. From an outcaste heir of Rome and whipping boy of Europe, he had grown into a global terror, an empire…and now this? Could anyone have predicted a former crusader and privateer would hang up his vengeance and weapons for this intermittent commonplace life? He had spent most of his days as one of the doubters and sometimes the lingering skepticism of this reality gnawed his thoughts. Sometimes when he lied beneath Alfred he felt the deep seeded urge to fight and conquer again. Sometimes he even gave into the compulsions, but never once had the man he dominated resented him for it.
In a way…this room had domesticated Alfred too. His once rambunctious young lad, his wild and eventually rebellious child, was now an independent world power and his strongest ally. His man had become something great and terrifying, just as he had been once, and made him both weary and proud.
It was funny, but everywhere other than this room his Alfred was America. Never once beyond the threshold had either of them ever addressed the other by their national name; they were simply Alfred and Arthur, my love and my darling, good morning and good night…
Gazing absently at this precious yet unremarkable room, stroking one of the arms around him and listening to Alfred’s even breaths, he was at peace. In the few minutes before Alfred would wake, he could reflect upon all of these things and feel satisfied. It wasn’t ever for more than a few days at a time but after so long without moments like this…it was enough.
He just wanted to enjoy being home…a little while longer.
Summary: To help cope with then pain and loneliness of his depression, he began keeping journals. It started during his first semester at the College of Winterhold, where he would spend hours before bed writing until he passed out from exhaustion. Overtime, the benefits of his nightly ritual began to show and the practice became permanent.
The sea; vast ocean blue filled with life and feared for its infinite mysteries. Her velvet surface rose and fell with temperate breaths, lulling seafaring birds to sleep and granting safe passage to ships that dared to sail. Men, with ambitions as untamed as the mistress herself, journeyed far in search of glory to honor their gods and enrich their coffers. No adventure was too trivial to whet the intrigue of kings or peasants with something to prove, and any vessel with oars was considered suitable for the task.
On this night, one of the grander ships passing over Poseidon’s domain was destined for a less than optimistic purpose. It’s bow cut a path through the reflection of Nyx’s canvas and made the stars dance below his hand skimming over them. Long fingers travelled along the smooth surface, chasing the small specs of light bobbing in the wake, as a salty Aegean breeze combed through his golden hair. Eyes the color of Olympus’s fairest skies and skin kissed by his former patron’s sun, the young man bore the attributes of his father’s visage and embodied the light of life…though now, he was a servant to far darker things. His brand carefully concealed beneath layers of armor, he let his mind wander away from fate and into the eyes of the being surfacing below him – bringing a smile to his face.
“Arthur, I was beginning to think you’d forgotten about me.”
Said being, adjusting to breathing air instead of water, shook the residual droplets clinging to his sandy colored hair and scowled. “Don’t be so ridiculous. Tis an impossible achievement to forget you, Alfred of Delphi.”
The man smiled wider and waited until his hand was accepted to pull the other onto the ship’s railing. A bare human torso appeared, followed by the emerald-scaled tail of an elegant aquatic creature. His companion was a true son of Achelous, the river god and father of merfolk, and had made a most precarious journey from the mainland to see him.
Once comfortably situated, the merman took a deep breath of air and exhaled contently, leaning into the current with his hands anchoring him on the rail. “How I’ve dreamt of living a life sailing above the water…even a mortal life.”
Alfred cast his gaze back to the ocean and nostalgically remembered just such a life. Wild, free, with exploits that echoed through the ballads and spoken histories of civilization. Even Olympus still remembered the accolades of his life…even his sire had immortalized his victories and sorrowful end in song. “It is a joy I will never forget.”
Arthur turned softened eyes on his companion and comfortingly covered the man’s hand with his own. Unlike the people on this voyage, all sleeping below deck, Arthur knew Alfred’s story and true purpose here as an agent of Hades. “Which soul are you here for?”
Alfred sighed and rested his arms on the rail. “The king’s son, who was told he would merely be overseeing this farce of an expedition. The prince has no idea he’s a sacrifice to settle his father’s debt over an unsatisfied bargain with Hades.”
Arthur remained quiet and nodded his head in understanding. No god took well to oath breakers, especially where life and death was concerned. He didn’t need to know the details of whatever deal this king had struck with the lord of the Underworld, as he knew only life could pay for life…meaning this king had asked for some reprieve from mortality in exchange for shortening another’s time that would keep things in balance.
“I feel for the prince. I know what it’s like to lose your soul in someone else’s deal,” Alfred added, and Arthur squeezed the hand in his tighter.
Alfred had been born a mortal son of Apollo, the life-loving god of the sun. From childhood to adulthood, Alfred had blazed an existence of reckless abandonment, never stopping for a moment because all of life was an adventure to be had. He’d sailed to every corner of the known world, battled hellish monsters, and braved perils only a demi-god could have ever hoped survived. He had once been able to heal the injured and sick with his voice, and defend the weak with his unparalleled archery. But it was his pure spirit that had earned him his greatest triumph…warming the jaded heart of a merman longing for life beneath the open sky.
Alfred was everything Arthur had ever dreamt of being. Through his gift of storytelling and even sharing an adventure or two together, Arthur felt as though he had lived that dream alongside this precious soul, his personal sun in an otherwise lonely and lightless existence.
Sadly, his sun had set far too soon.
Years ago, when Alfred had returned home for the first time in nearly a decade, an emissary from Sparta had come to the city in search of a divine son of Apollo. Through violent means, this emissary had found Alfred and abducted him, taking him to a temple of Ares where a priest had been waiting for them. Evidently, the gods had gotten into a bloody tiff and a prized son of Ares had been slain, the fault for which had fallen on Apollo. The fight had had nothing to do with Alfred, but the vengeful war god had demanded retribution for the crime and Alfred had been the first child of the sun found. He’d been knelt before a statue of Ares and his blood used to settle the debt.
His father, at least, had mourned his loss; but it had been Arthur who grieved the most.
Given his lineage, the lord of the dead had decided to make use of the soul that had prematurely found it’s way to his realm. Alfred had been made an agent of Tartarus, charged with collecting souls to settle debts that kept the flow of souls in balance. Though it was a far better fate than others that might have befallen a demi-god in the afterlife, it was an anguishing occupation for one who, despite all that had happened, still loved life.
Knowing the weight of his friend’s torment, Arthur laid his head on the other’s shoulder and eventually Alfred’s cheek came to rest on him too. “I brought you a gift tonight.”
He knew he had Alfred’s interest when he could hear the cautious smile in his voice. “Oh? Dare I ask where you’re hiding it?”
Arthur chuckled and raised his hand from the rail to out over the sea, letting the cool glow of moonlight reflecting off the water pool in his hand and form his gift. He didn’t have to see Alfred’s face to know it was lit with that wondrous spark of boyish excitement he always got when witnessing Arthur’s magic. It was so pure…and he treasured it.
The spell was complete and in Arthur’s hand hung a modest silver necklace with an oval pendant, made of pearl. Alfred hesitated before reaching and letting Arthur place it in his hand. Though he was eager to examine it he made sure to treat it delicately. Knowing his gift would be handled with the reverence it deserved, Arthur raised his head and whispered, “Say my name.”
The warrior quirked a brow but obeyed, “Arthur.”
The pendant began to glow with the same soft and silvery light that created it, forming a small star in Alfred’s hand that left him in awe. It was so beautiful and undiminished by the dark night; it was like holding a piece of heaven. “Arthur…”
“It’s easy to forget what the world beyond Tartarus is like, but I…I never want you to forget it or the most beautiful thing about it,” Arthur began and felt the burn of tears he fought not to shed. “And that’s the light you brought to it.”
He knew Alfred’s eyes were upon him but he couldn’t bear to look back just yet. Losing Alfred had been the hardest experience of his long life and though Alfred would return to this world from time to time…it was still only a matter of time before what made Alfred so special was lost in Tartarus’s void. His heart ached thinking about it; the future was so bleak without this beautiful soul to share it with. When he knew he was about to lose the battle with his grief, he felt a soft kiss on his cheek and his breath caught.
Alfred was now resting his head on Arthur’s shoulder, holding the still glowing light before them and…happy. They stayed together like that, watching the rosy tips of dawn spread over the sky, until Alfred closed his hand over pendant and used their last moments alone to whisper: