Warnings: sex later on
Summary: In Arthur’s closet, tucked away in the back, next to his stash of cigarettes and whiskey, there are two things. One is an album of pictures he wished was empty and the other was of a leather jacket he swore to never keep. usuk/frukAU
Note: Gilbert considers the Englishman to be somewhat of a ghost.
Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place. Zora Neale Hurston
The piano was honestly one of the most beautiful things Arthur had ever heard.
How he wished he could capture it in a drawing, to show the harmonies weaving together and the flow and ebb of the feelings. If Arthur had to ever swallow his pride and bow down to another art form, music would be it. With art, there were mediums, colours and nearly ceaseless ways to express. Everything could be art.
With music, there was a sense of structure; and with this structure came immense beauty. There were technically thirteen notes that were higher or lower. That was it. Someone had to construct something from a piteous selection while also keeping in mind sound, tone, how much a player could actually accomplish along with harmonies and what sounded right. And that was just with one instrument alone.
Arthur couldn't even begin to imagine the work that came with composing a symphony.
So he didn't. He merely let the music wash over him in waves. It was supposed to be a session with Roderich but when he'd walked into the home (invited in by a note on the door that read 'Come in Arthur, and stay for dinner, pot roast') it was to find it rather empty; Elizaveta's coat missing from the rack near the door and the quiet piano echoing throughout.
Careful not to make a noise, he slipped his shoes off, seat them aside and made his way up the stairs, taking care to miss the ones that creaked before nudging open the door to the doctor's office. The Austrian made know acknowledgment of Arthur save the swelling of his music and the Brit quickly sat down, watching carefully.
It was nearly a minute before the music stopped and Arthur, who didn't quite remember closing his eyes, found himself opening them and blinking at Roderich who brushed a small hair off of his shoulder before lightly closing the piano and walking back over to his desk, sitting down and holding out a hand.
"The journal please, Arthur."
Rummaging in his bag, Arthur held it out and felt it leave his hands and in this action he suddenly felt very open. Pure emotions were on those pages and here he was handing them over. The idea of Roderich reading some of his innermost thought and wants brought a flush to his cheeks and he lifted a hand to try and rub it away with little success.
Roderich took a few minutes to read it, carefully turning pages; eyes scanning the words while Arthur continued to watch him just as carefully. Was that fear, doubt, worry, satisfaction, remorse or something else entirely on the doctor's face? The more Arthur stared, the more the apparent emotion confused him. Was that… acceptance? Or perhaps the Brit was just that terrible at reading people, which was not entirely implausible, he did have a nasty habit of misinterpretations of emotions which all led to very awkward situations.
Perhaps it had been his time with the American that had desensitised himself to other emotions. Everything Alfred felt was clear and readable on his face; the definition of an open book, which is why he was rather perfect for Arthur who, when it came to social cues, was about as well-versed at as a child attempting to ride a too-large bicycle.
Roderich's words finally pulled Arthur from his reminiscing. "You mention someone here…" he said, stopping on one of the newer entries, "Well, you mention him several times. Francis? The Frenchman, he's hired you?"
"Oh, yes," Arthur said, quickly explaining Francis' request while Roderich only gave a small nod, "He's rather kind, and cultured. Well, as cultured as a frog can be, but he's surprisingly charming and I definitely have to compliment him on his photography. It is rather impressive-"
"I think Arthur's got a crush~" For a moment, Arthur thought that Roderich had said this and it nearly toppled him out of his chair until he followed the Austrian's gaze and found Elizaveta standing at the door of the office, cheeks pink from the cold wind outside and smiling widely.
Attempting to figure out why she was smiling, Arthur quickly spotted the reason why. A shock of white hair was hovering behind her and when the woman moved further into the room, Arthur was treated to the full view of Gilbert Beilschmidt sporting papers bags overflowing with food. The Prussian blinked at the Brit and the Englishman blinked back, feeling himself smile.
Gilbert's strange looks made him one of Arthur's favourite models. Not that he'd ever tell the Prussian that because the man's ego was already inflated and bloated enough but if one were to peer through Arthur's sketchbooks, it would be to the Prussian as a knight. Occasionally Elizaveta would appear next to Gilbert, just as fierce in her own armour.
As close as the Hungarian was to her husband, it was clear that her best friend was Gilbert. He'd heard that they had been friends since high school but it was obvious in the way they worked together. Not that you'd pin them as best friends if you saw them, because usually if they were together, they were arguing.
"Gil, what are you still doing up here?" the Hungarian said, putting a hand on her hip and smirking at the pale man, "Go downstairs and unpack those groceries already!"
The Prussian wasn't quick on his response as Arthur was expecting, but crimson eyes still stuck on Arthur before darting to the Austrian who gave a small nod and then back to the Brit, the thin face breaking out in a wide smile. "Yeah, yeah I'm going," he said, turning, "keep your panties on."
"Let me help," Arthur said quickly, standing up, "Have to make sure you don't drop the roast and I'll have to eat Chinese again."
Following Gilbert downstairs, he quickly took one of the bags, placing it on the counter, starting to unload it while the Prussian merely watched him curiously, unpacking his bag much slower, as if trying to figure out if Arthur was merely a ghost of some kind. The Brit only allowed this for a few minutes (as he really didn't appreciate being looked at like he was a ghost), looking back at Gilbert and allowing a frown to furrow his brow.
Taking a deep breath, he jabbed a finger at Gilbert's chest. "What's wrong?" He asked, arching an eyebrow and folding his arms. And then it clicked. "Oh- bloody hell I forgot- it's nearly been… Jesus, three years?"
Crimson eyes blinked. "Three years…? Oh yeah- right since Alfred…"
"Exactly, since Alfred got here," The Brit laughed, rubbed his face tiredly. "Well he's gone now, so I guess I'm back." And this thought made Arthur feel a little lighter. He didn't need Alfred to continue, not to say he didn't miss the boy terribly, but seeing Gilbert, a friend from before Alfred, still here and talking, well, it was nice.
Gilbert took a moment to answer. "Right- you're back," and he smiled, trying to laugh along with the Brit while pulling out the carrots and resting them on the cutting board, "it's really good to see you again Arthur,"
This is oddly sentimental and touching, so much so that Arthur actually whacked Gilbert's arm. "What's got you all soppy? It's unfitting of you."
"You're the artist," Gilbert said, "you should be loving my emotions! Draw me Artie! C'mon, you know I'm awesome-" And with this, it was simple to move back into his biting and sharp relationship with the Prussian. Perhaps not as confrontational as Elizaveta and Gilbert's friendship was, Arthur still found himself often fighting with the Prussian and he revelled in it.
How long had it been since he's exchanged remarks like this? His mind had grown soft from his three months of moping but within fifteen minutes, Arthur was just as sharp as he remembered The snark only improved when Elizaveta came down, immediately ordering them about giving Arthur the easiest jobs, knowing that his artist hands did not transfer into the world of culinary expertise.
Gilbert and the Hungarian were at loggerheads immediately and the rest of the night descended into fighting, the sweet and thick smell of cured meats, wine and good company. For once, Arthur was so occupied with exchanging stories and jokes and words that everything else just seemed to fall away. Much like with Yao's family, when Arthur was here, he saw a family but here, he was part of it and it was filling him with a warmth he hadn't had since Alfred. And he wasn't even noticing, it was as if the warmth had never truly left him, merely had cooled and here, amid the conversation and lazy lounging in the living room and a third bottle of wine, it was sparking again.
The next morning, Arthur found himself curled up in the guest bedroom of the Austrian's home, draped in a heavy quilt and his head pounding from the wine he had consumed the night before. Even with the immense hangover jabbing needles into his head, Arthur still felt good, or perhaps that was the wrong word. It was that warmth and it made him feel like a balloon. Full.
Yes, full. Arthur felt full and warm for the first time since Alfred had left and this alone could make him ignore the pounding headache. For a few minutes at least before he was curling back up under the covers and cursing and swearing that he would never drink again and oh-bloody-hell how had Gilbert convinced him to drink so much? Stupid Prussian-
"Before you go cursing my best friend, you might want to check that your door is closed," Arthur peeked over his covers to see Elizaveta walking over with a cup of tea in Arthur's favourite mug and in her other hand... was that-
"Tylenol," Arthur said, sitting up, taking the pills and swallowing them down with the tea, sinking against the headboard and sighing happily. "You are an angel Elizaveta. How are you not...?"
The Hungarian grinned, winking. "I didn't drink as much as you and Gil did. It was impressive to be honest. I haven't seen you this relaxed in ages," she sat down on his bed, resting a hand on his leg. "It honestly suits you Arthur. You were never much of a moper."
Allowing a finger to drag along the edge of his teacup, Arthur felt his cheeks heat up slightly. As good of a doctor as Roderich was, Elizaveta had a natural intuition about people and usually it was right on target. "I know," he said quietly, sipping his tea, resting it in his lap, "last night was absolutely brilliant, I haven't had that much fun in ages. Almost thought I'd forgotten but I suppose having Gilbert around tends to keep things exciting."
Her laugh was light and did not hurt Arthur's head. "Yes, he does tend to bring out the life in people, as annoying as the bastard is." She let out a soft sigh. "Fell asleep on the couch, like the loser he is. Hasn't working up and I was banging about the kitchen." Her cheeks tinted a light pink and graceful fingers played with the ring around her finger.
Arthur reached out, quickly taking her hand. "Don't fret love," he said, smiling, "you are very lucky to have two such men in your life, treasure them both."
Appearing a little shocked, Elizaveta quickly waved her hands, face turning an even darker shade of red. "When was I the one getting romantic advice all of a sudden?" She ran her fingers through her hair, drawing it all over her left shoulder, "And I have three special men in my life. Don't be so quick to count yourself out Arthur."
Not sure if she meant it or was just saying to make him turn red as well (which it did) Arthur merely grumbled into his tea.
Squeezing his leg as she laughed, Elizaveta gently poked his nose. "But you can't just continue to hide with us forever Arthur," she shook her head as he tried to argue that he could do whatever he wanted as he was a grown man. "Please. Meet new people, you're likable once you get past your crusty and crotchety outside. Go see this Francis guy, you sound like you really like him and you can't just hang around here forever and bum food."
Arthur sighed. "You are almost better at your husband's job than he is," he said. "And I do not just bum food off of you. I also come for the tea and the lovely lady. I am but a poor starving artist and she wishes to kick me out on the street. What will I ever do?"
He pouted. She pinched his nose. "Well, I suppose I can give you one last breakfast." Standing up, Elizaveta left the room while Arthur tended to his tea for a few more minutes before dragging himself out of bed and joining her downstairs, settling on the couch (which Gilbert still on it) and enjoying a obscenely large breakfast while under him Gilbert seemed to be stuck in German-mode, red eyes rimmed with dark circles as he alternated between eating toast and throwing half-comprehended sentences at them.
Arthur didn't pay much attention to him, off in his own little world, Elizaveta words playing over and over in his head. Did he really like Francis? Well of course he did, the man was honest, simple and childish. He'd almost compare him to Alfred, and yet there was still something different about him. Elizaveta was right, he did like the man and it was only fair to himself if he continued to see the Frenchman outside of their work relationship.
Or at least give it the old college try.
Bit of a short chapter, but nonetheless an important one~