Warnings: Some fluff. Probably gay. =|
Word Count: 2671.
Characters: Alan-centric. Jaden, Nigel, mention of Cynthia. Cameos of Crista, Erico, Ariadne, Rubedo, Albedo, Nigredo.
Notes: I'm on an Alan/Nigel kick. And I keep bordering the AU/canon line. XD;
Summary: Happy Birthday to you. --Dreams are your mind's way of filing memories, bits and pieces shifting as you sleep.
It’s a dream, he thinks, and goes back to sleep.
When he wakes, the other is already gone, and for a moment, Alan lays there, staring upward. There is light streaming from the window, the sounds of birds vying for control of the sound waves with machinery nearby. There’s a want to remain where he is, thoughts draining away until there is little more than what he is left in that place. A breeze moves against his skin from somewhere, and he imagines he hears faint singing. He does smell something like food, and his stomach lurches then cries in want. The man sighs, reprieve lost, and wonders what was left for him to consume.
What isn’t expected is the girl moving in the kitchen like she belongs there, a too-long apron on, and hat left tipped on a chair to show her half-mussed hair. He stares at her from the doorway, watches as she checks the eggs and shifts the bacon onto a plate. She appears to only notice him when she turns, lips quirking in something like friendliness--her version of a smile. “You’re awake.”
He can’t place her presence here--an empty house and two who didn’t belong--and only nods dumbly. It’s as if she understands, and she places the plate on the counter, wiping her hands on cloth. “He won’t cook.” Can’t, is the unsaid word. “And it’d be nice to have a hot meal.” There’s an awkward beat, something unsaid. “It’s your birthday, isn’t it.”
It’s not a question. If there are basic facts to be found, she knows them, and he understands this. The moment passes, and he leans against the wall. “So I’m told.”
Jaden nods. “Your files all agree on that.” She inclines her head to the side, makes that expression again. Alan wonders if she considers them friends despite it all. “Happy Birthday, Alan.”
He gives a half-smile of amusement and moves to say thanks--instead, as his lips open to form the word, he begins to cry, the reason unfounded. Eyes shift in surprise and then the emotion dies, and he slides down the wall, an arm curling around his head. Footsteps place her closer, and after a beat of hesitation, her hand touches his arm in something like reassurance. He does not move and she retracts it, takes four steps to the phone and dials, murmuring into it. When she hangs up, instead of leaving she sits beside him, her body the lightest pressure against him.
He could have loved her, Alan thinks. He would have ended up loving her if things had been different.
They weren’t, though. Speak of change and loss, and life was only as it was.
When Crista found out Alan’s birthday, it had turned from a day into a “thing.” Because, of course, once Crista knew, Erico knew soon after, and suddenly from chem lab on the way to advanced sociology, Alan found himself kidnapped by arms that reached out and grabbed him as he walked by. Pulled into the enclave, Alan found an arm around his shoulders and a grinning set of white teeth next to him. “Alan…~” the darker boy said in sing-song. “We found out something interesting about you.”
It should prove as a point that he didn’t catch on immediately. Of all the things these two could find interesting, a birthday long since forgotten about did not exist as one of them. Still Crista crossed her arms in satisfaction in front of the pair, a thin smile seated on her lips. “Tomorrow,” she said crisply, intent solid. “We are taking off all of our classes.”
Alan frowned, brows drawing together. “Why would--”
“Tomorrow,” she interrupted, lips pulling back from her teeth in the slightest amount. “We are celebrating something and to that, we are spending the day making a cake.”
Erico stage-whispered. “And when that fails, we’re going to go to a fancy restaurant instead.”
The girl rolled her eyes, shifting her hair back from her shoulder with a tilt of her head. “It’s not every day that we learn that our ‘esteemed comrade’ is going to be celebrating his twentieth birthday. We thought to do something interesting.”
“What she’s trying to say, in her Cris-like way, is that we wanted to spend your birthday with you.” Erico smiled, knocking his head lightly against Alan’s. “That okay with you?”
Another time, place, he would have raged at the invasion of privacy, at the thought of others knowing any details about him. Any one else and he would have denied the question instantly without a thought, rejected it with a smug smirk and haughty expression. He still might have if they had asked in public. But he had been pulled aside, in near enough dark that Alan could pretend none existed but the three of them.
And so their foresight was rewarded with the rare and pleasant sight of Alan glancing downward, touched, expression soft and eyes blinking as he was at a lost of what to say. Eventually, he nodded, still watching the ground. “…That’s okay with me.”
Eric smiled widely, and gave the other a large hug, the girl striding closer to rest her hand on Alan’s free shoulder. “Good,” she said, as if the answer had been obvious. “Then that’s settled then.”
Settled and done, an irrevocable transaction.
How it turns out is that she had called in to say she wouldn’t be in today. Something Alan didn’t question even as he didn’t understand it. It was too familiar, that thought, gave too much of memories in the concept. It was not as if he needed to be babysat, but she stayed all the same.
That, more than anything, makes him think of a day of burned cakes and floured clothes, a nap on the couch, piled three bodies high, and as Eric had threatened, a four-course meal at a too expensive place, something Crista had waved off without a thought otherwise. They had slept over, watched movies all night to make fun of and fell asleep before him. He had watched them that night, as he wouldn’t again. Placed every detail of their skin to memory, kept the image of lashes brushed across cheeks, and felt like he would cry. Except he didn’t, for Alan did not cry, not until twenty minutes ago, and for no reason he can offer.
It’s not them, really. It’s not that at all. Even if he thinks to a different year, only one year after that day, that night. When Alan turned twenty-one, he was in the grasp of what he couldn’t name, had broke away already, and didn’t realize his birthday had passed until two days later. He’d be gone within another month, less than, and still he didn’t know it. When he had opened the door for the first time in nearly a week, two cards fell down from where they had been wedged. A store bought one with precise lettering from Crista; a piece of paper folded from Eric. Ironically hers said more inside, spoke of concern and care in the careful words, while Erico’s only gave a generic well-wishing, a kind of afterthought of forgetfulness. The only tell was a letter not as straight as it should have been, like a reveal of emotion passing in the night. A lack. A wanting.
He didn’t bring it up, and neither did they. Time went on, like that one perfect moment hadn’t a place where they were.
The phone rings and Jaden lets it go--the machine clicking on to take a message for Cynthia. He had long since stopped the sporadic crying, and only sits, staring forward, half in apathy, half appalled at his own behavior. He doesn’t speak. She seems content to sit quietly. Eventually the food grows cold.
This is what Alan does not remember.
When Alan turned thirteen in a locked room, with a locked door, walls white and bleak and empty as his mind, before he approached another, there already existed eyes on him. As he aged without a word, gold eyes watched over him, away, apart, for what he was touched close to a wounded animal, something to be won over quietly, softly, allowed to come to you without a word.
So he slept his age away, and in the corridor outside, she sat against his door, watching nothing in particular. A smile quirked on her lips, an arm propped on a knee, and she breathed out quietly, in the building of locked doors that could never hold her. But he was here, and eventually he would realize that.
Inside the room, an shifting form stared at the sleeping boy from the foot of the bed. There was mourning in the room, resentment and wishful thinking both, and as the sun rose the figure would disappear. The boy would be called awake, pulled from the room as was normal, with nothing outside of it to show there had ever been anyone there.
He does not remember ever turning fourteen, mind left in pieces after two choices not his own.
Alan had slept the night before, unexplainably. Had fallen asleep beside the other without realizing, and was left there, undisturbed. His mind was thankfully silent for the majority--there existed no cries, no shadows, no whispers--and he only slept. Until hours later, when his mind insisted on a deeper rest, and placed memories into better files, filtering and decompressing, and moving things to the forefront.
What Alan dreamed was only simple.
There are three boys, alike and different, aged around seven. They are crouched around an empty spot of dirt in a courtyard, white and black fixated on red as he speaks. “--and that’s why. I read it on the console when we had free time--”
Interrupting, white whines, “But we’re not allowed on that. And you don’t know the password, Rubedo!”
With an almost adult sigh, red continues, “I hacked the password, Albedo. And that’s not important.” A chubby face grows serious. “Normal kids have birthdays. We should have one, too.”
“But we’re not normal children, Rubedo.” Black watches, half in caution, half in curiosity. It’s apparent to any watching that he wants to simply go along with the idea, but one must speak in caution. And it’s not going to be the pouting white-haired child.
The red-head frowns at the other. “That doesn’t matter, Nigredo. Even if we were created, there’s a day we were born, and--”
Again, an interruption. “It’s not on file.” White is petulant now.
“Albedo! How would you know that?”
Petulance turns into a child’s smugness. “I already checked. The dates are missing from our files. We can’t even be sure we’re actually seven.”
Here, black looks concerned. Red notices, and frowning, shakes his head. “Well, that doesn’t matter!” White looks unconvinced, and red reaches for his hand, squeezes it as if to prove a point. “Even if we don’t have birthdays, we’ll make one, and celebrate it then!” His other hand reaches for black. “Just the three of us. Nobody else.”
White softens, blinking at his mirror. “Just us?”
Red nods firmly, smiling. “We don’t need anybody else.”
This appeases, and white quiets, smiling to himself. Black thinks a little further, then opens his mouth. “How about--”
Alan opened his eyes to darkness, and found it hard to breathe. It was as if….
But it was only a dream. A dream, he thinks, and he goes back to sleep, thick exhaustion pulling him back under. He dreams no more the rest of the night.
She looks up when he walks in, expression flat. “He fell asleep,” she says, a bit unneeded, as it’s obvious the man beside her is asleep. If Nigel is surprised to see her near the other, or remaining to watch him at all, it’s not shown. He only closes his eyes and murmurs an, “I see,” and trods further into the room. Jaden watches him, remaining where she is. Nigel opens the fridge and then closes it again without taking anything from it. “Don’t you have work?”
“I called off.”
To this, she receives a doubtful expression. Vaguely annoyed, she makes sure that Alan won’t fall over when she stands, and then does so, brushing off her pants. The apron is untied and flung over a chair--her hat is collected and slipped smartly on. She pauses at the door of the kitchen. “He’s having a hard time. You could at least be kind on his birthday.”
She leaves and Nigel stares blankly after her. As if she knew anything at all. Alan wasn’t the only one having difficulty adjusting.
And Nigel was, of course, nothing but kind.
His eyes open to darkness, and he finds it hard to breathe. He doesn’t remember how he ended up here, and to this, his eyes move about the room, staring until shapes fade into familiarity. It is not until a moment after he wakes that he recognizes pressure against his back, heat against his spine. Alan glances over his shoulder to view the curled form of Nigel, sleeping in the way of one dead. Alan stares, wondering what time it is. Late and early all the same, and that was only the story of his life, he thinks, a bit melodramatically. It’s his birthday, he reasons; he gets to have a little melodrama.
The man swallows, ignoring thoughts, and settles onto his back. Years unchecked, nothing, two years ago placed him to view happiness in full, a year ago hell, and now this. The landscape is confusing, unexplainable, but it’s not something he’s adverse to. Even in the worst moments, in which he hates himself and this other, he doesn’t consider leaving. He had walked away from them, after all. And had ended up here. At the least, he would respect them by remaining, proving meaning in his own abandonment, their own salvation in his absence. (As he viewed it. As stated, he was allowing melodrama.)
Those ring as excuses in the end. It isn’t about them at all. Alan remains where he is, because there is something of belonging in this place. With the strange man next to him. He glances over, hand following his sight to quietly touch a strand of hair. Disproving Alan’s theory, Nigel murmurs, “Pervert.”
Alan’s expression settles into a line, and contrarily, he does not pull his hand away. Instead he runs his fingers through the strands twice before relenting, dropping his hand back to his side. “Soft.”
One eye cracks. “Is that something normal brothers say?”
This reminds him too much of a dream half-forgotten. “We’re not normal siblings.”
Nigel watches him, then closes his eyes again. After a beat, he shifts, turning toward Alan and laying his head against his shoulder. Alan stills, watching the other from the corner of his eyes. “Yes,” Nigel speaks into Alan’s shirt. “Still. It’s good you have a birthday.” Something normal and all his own. “Many happy returns and all of that.”
A corner of Alan’s mouth quirks incredulously. But who is he to question a brother wishing another happy birthday? His hand drops back on Nigel’s head, stroking his hair. “Eh,” the older replies eloquently. “We’ll celebrate yours next month and do something for both of us.”
There’s an extended beat, an awkward moment, and Alan can’t place the why other than, again, what was said reflected a dream, minus one. He feels Nigel swallow against him, and then still before relaxing. “…Okay.”
There is something like relief in this, something comforting as much as there had been years before. And Alan doesn’t know why. He accepts it just the same. He tilts his head against the other’s, and quiets, eyes closing. Time had passed without his knowing. And time would pass more without a thought. If he slept, he could wake up as another and he would never know. If he slept, he might vanish without a protest, half-hearted or sincere. There is nothing grounded within him, nothing to hold his self to the earth and not disperse into the air. But he could sleep next to Nigel, calm and comforted, and would wake up fine. Close to whole. Close enough, as any could come to it.
Like a dream, he thinks to himself, and goes back to sleep.