The Languages of Love
Flechazo (Spanish) - an arrow shot; love at first sight
The first time they met, Alfred was sleeping.
It was in a busy little cafe a couple blocks from their university when Arthur and Alfred first met. A middle aged customer was loudly chastising the poor girl behind the counter over the design of the cup. Somewhere a baby was wailing. In the corner, a young couple was having a heated dispute that was steadily growing in volume and would likely end with one party doused in hot coffee and the other storming off. That Alfred managed to doze off was nothing short of a miracle.
Arthur was seated two tables away, sipping at a weak cup of Earl Grey, and waiting for his date who had yet to show up.
Paying no heed the noise in the background, Arthur studied the sleeping American. Like magnets with opposing polarities, something drew his gaze to Alfred and on Alfred it stayed. He admired the broad shoulders and the shade of those sunny blond locks. Alfred's face was nestled within plaid covered arms, hovering over an open textbook, and his wire rim glasses had been knocked askew. One gravity defying lock of hair cast a shadow over the American's otherwise smooth, unmarked skin. Arthur imagined if he got close enough, he would hear soft snores coming out.
A corner of the Englishman's mouth quirked upwards as he sipped his tea.
People bustled around the cafe. A waitress asked Arthur if he would like another cup of tea, to which he responded with a soft smile and a distracted nod. Despite Alfred's body being slumped over and dark creases outlining his eyes, Arthur could see some semblance of how attractive the American would be when awake, alert and sated. He admired how the light rested on the broad shoulders, how the shifting shadows of busy waiters and stressed customers rippled within the sunny blond locks. A cold mug of coffee sat off to the side.
When Arthur left, Alfred was still in dreamland. He wasn't quite sure what it was that ignited the soft warmth in his chest, but he found he was not particularly upset when his date never showed up.
And when Alfred woke up from his dream, he was clouded in a pleasant haze. He didn't remember much of his dream but a vibrant emerald green remained imprinted in his mind.
Koi no Yokan (Japanese) - When you meet someone and know you are destined to fall in love
Alfred and Arthur's paths crossed a few months later, when Arthur came across a mostly naked American in the gym change room.
Alfred had a lost, dazed look and was glancing up and down, left and right, in front and behind, looking for something he had misplaced. Drops of water trickled down his neck, creating rivets between his shoulder blades that continued down his back. Beads of water dripped off his hair, though that one lock continue to resist the laws of physics. Wet swim shorts clung to his legs and, as Arthur noted with pleasure, nicely defined the curse of his hip.
At this rate, he would start drooling any minute.
Cheeks tinted pink, Arthur set his bag on the bench. "Misplace something?"
Alfred turned to him, shaking water everywhere like a wet dog, sheepish grin set in place. "Uh, not exactly. See, my teammates have this thing where they steal someone's clothes and, well, guess I'm the victim this time."
An impressive eyebrow arched. "And you are standing here, doing nothing, and letting your teammates walk over you why?"
"Well I can't exactly go out dressed like this." Alfred gestured to himself. "Besides, the captain is this Australian dude who is not someone you want on your bad side. Coach has tried to kick him off the team about four times now. He's too good, though. As horrible a person he is, we're stuck with him because he carries the team."
"I thought swimming was an individual sport?"
Alfred laughed, "I mean the water polo team! We're on a winning streak and Coach won't do anything to jeopardise it. So, we just have to suck it up. Dude's cool though, once you get past the wild plans and get a stomach of steel. Besides, it's a hero's role to take one for the team."
"I see," Arthur remained expressionless. "I have an extra change of clothes. I could lend it to you. It'll be a bit of a squeeze though."
""Really? Gosh, thanks, bro! You're a saviour!"
Alfred bounded over, trapping Arthur in a very tight, and very wet, bear hug.
"Y-you git!" Stuttered Arthur, pushing a wall of muscle. "Don't get me wet too!" Perhaps he didn't notice, but he ignored how very warm his cheeks were and avoided Alfred's eyes.
Alfred just laughed.
Unzipping his bag, Arthur dug around a bit before pulling out a neatly folded pile of fabric. He held it out towards the American.
Alfred reached out for it. Their fingertips brushed against each others, ever so slightly. Warmth rushed through his veins. With a tinge of red in his cheeks, Alfred pulled away and cleared his throat. He gave Arthur his best all-American white smile.
"Thanks, dude. You totally saved me tons of embarrassment. For the record, I'm Alfred F. Jones. I have a feeling we'll be seeing each other quite a bit." His earlier bashfulness had dissipated, and he even had the audacity to wink at the Englishman.
Arthur carefully held his mask of indifference together. If one looked closely enough, they could've seen the little hearts reflected in his green eyes. "Arthur Kirkland, pleased to meet you."
Alfred sauntered off to change. "Well, Arthur, I'm sure we'll meet again. Thanks again!" He turned to flash one last blinding grin before slipping behind a door.
He left behind a flustered Arthur, whose cheeks blazed and flooded with heat. It took a few moments before he could gather himself back together and prepare for his archery practice.
Kilig (Tagalog) - the giddiness you feel when meeting your crush
Kiku had something to do with it.
Nine other people were also gathered in the little apartment he shared with Kiku but none of them were important. Only Arthur was.
And wasn't it a little too convenient that his quiet, unsocial roommate suddenly decided to have guests shortly after Alfred's little not-a-crush on Arthur Kirkland accidentally slipped out?
So, it was Kiku's fault that he was hiding in his room, pacing between the door and his bed. He and Arthur had crossed paths a handful of times since their first exchange in the gym locker room. They exchanged pleasantries and it was always followed by a fluttering sensation and Alfred couldn't quite place. He brushed it off as nerves from his astrophysics paper or an interview with NASA scouts.
He wasn't hiding because of his not-a-crush. Definitely not. He had an engineering paper to write. He didn't have the time to spare.
Knock, knock. The door inched open to reveal a head of pale, messy blond hair. The hair was followed by a pair of larger than average eyebrows, then came the verdant green eyes. A splash of freckles dotted the pale cheeks.
Alfred could have killed himself with anticipation.
Arthur Kirkland stood in the doorway, looking very much out of place amongst the rockets and movies posters that adorned his walls. He cleared his throat. "Sorry for intruding," he started, in that very English manner of his. "Kiku wanted to know if you were going to join us? They're playing Pokémon and Francis brought snacks from his bakery."
A familiar flutter announced its presence. "Yeah, just give me a sec." Alfred rubbed the back of his neck and focused on Arthur's feet. "I just need to finish something up."
Arthur nodded and closed the door. The door hadn't quite closed and bounced back open, leaving a crevice between the wall and door.
Between the bed and door stood an American whose heart was pounding, stomach fluttering and blue eyes lit up with excitement.
If anyone ever asked, Alfred would deny his fist pump of victory. He would deny having jumped in excitement and giggled into his pillow like a schoolgirl. He would deny the fluttering in his chest, that he was radiating happiness and lovesickness.
That doesn't mean it didn't happen.
Alfred smoothed down his shirt, ran a hand through his hair and straightened his glasses. Bright grin set in place, he flung open the door and joined the party.
Maybe he did have a crush on Arthur Kirkland.
Just a little one.
Mamihllapinatapei (Yaghan) - The shared look of desire between two people too shy to make the first move
In a secluded corner of the library, Arthur and Alfred sat across from each other. Being a Master's student of literature, Arthur's knowledge of the universe and engineering was rather limited. What Alfred realized, however, was that Arthur was a brutal critic and that made him the ideal person to edit his engineering papers. He couldn't help with the subject matter, but he could point out flaws. Even though Alfred often left his editing sessions on the brink of tears (a side effect of befriending the most cynical critic known to man), he found it to be a worthwhile exchange. It was the perfect excuse to spend time with Arthur and build up to a grand confession.
Thick framed reading glasses perched on the bridge of Arthur's nose. Every so often he would reach up to push the frame back up. The thin glass did nothing to dilute the greenness of his eyes. Thick brows furrowed in concentration as his eyes followed the string of words. His hands were long and thin, long fingers closed around a red pen. The page was covered in so much red ink, someone could have bled to death over it. Every inch of free space was covered with improvements, written in Arthur's loopy cursive. So old-fashion, and so very Arthur.
Once in a while the pen would cease its movements. Arthur would pause and think, biting his lip, pondering the best course of action.
Alfred could have done something productive. He could be job hunting, or studying for his calculus final. But Arthur had this mysterious allure about him, and Alfred could never focus on anything else in his presence.
Alfred admired how Arthur's inner nerd emerged once literature was involved. And his papers full of equations and theories were far from literature, but it was writing and there was nothing Arthur enjoyed more than dealing out a healthy dose of criticism. That was the sacrifice one made when falling in love with a cynic.
A lock of hair fell in Arthur's eyes. He reached up to brush it aside but someone beat him to it. He looked up and met Alfred's eyes. Alfred wore this shy smile, a genuine smile, one Arthur had only seen in moments like this when it was just the two of them. Alfred was incredibly dense when it came to reading the atmosphere, but at times like these, words were unnecessary to convey what needed to be said.
Arthur smiled back, blue and green eyes still mixing.
Butterflies erupted in their stomachs, hearts pounded, blood rushed and cheeks reddened. Yet, neither of them could gather up the courage to put their feelings into words. For now, shared looks in the corner of the library would have to do.
And that, thought Arthur, was an experience in itself.
Blue eyes hooked to green, and green eyes latched onto blue, expressing the words that couldn't be said.
Viraha (Hindi) - The realisation of love through separation
Tap, tap, tap.
Absentmindedly, Alfred pressed random buttons on his game controller. The screen before him was blank; he hadn't bothered to turn on the TV. He hadn't realized just how much of his life revolved around Arthur until Arthur left. Arthur was in Copenhagen. He had been recommended for a doctoral program researching fairies in Scandinavian and Gaelic literature and he would be gone for a year. And now that he was gone, Alfred realized just how big of a role Arthur played in his life.
And Alfred was empty without him.
Tap, tap, tap, clunk.
Checking the time, Alfred threw the controller aside and reached for his laptop.
The dot beside Arthur's name hadn't lit up yet, but it would soon.
To pass the time, Alfred opened up a folder known as his guilty pleasure. It consisted solely of Arthur, caught unaware by the camera. Arthur did not know of the existence of this folder, and Alfred planned to keep it that way.
Tap, tap, tap.
Alfred soared through years of memories, from his own graduation to their first vacation to Kiku's wedding to Ivan's first divorce. Pictures of Arthur with a rare smile, Arthur scowling, Arthur's back, Arthur glaring at Francis. His favourite was the one of Arthur reading a brochure, a vast body of water behind him.
That trip hadn't be particularly memorable, but Arthur, being the artist he was, loved beauty for its inspiration. Alfred loved seeing Arthur's expressions, the masks of awe, wonder, and that special glint in his eye that only came out when he felt especially inspired. Shoulders relaxed, all the worries having been washed away. If Alfred had to define beauty, that was it.
Tap, tap, tap.
Arthur was online now. Alfred gave the picture on last, good look before connecting to him. Arthur's image appeared in his screen.
"Hey sweetheart. Guess what happened today..."
A familiar sensation fluttered in his stomach, but for the first time, Alfred knew what it was.
Tap, tap, tap.
Cafuné (Portuguese) - To run your fingers through a lover's hair
Arthur loved mornings.
There was nothing quite like seeing the sun rise, taking the first steps of its trek across the skies. Nothing quite like sipping a hot cup of tea, sitting on the porch, listening to the birds sing while reading a good book. Breathing in the crisp, cool air and taking in the peace. It was heaven.
But today, he slept in. Noting the light in the room with dismay, Arthur made to get up. Then Alfred turned, crinkling all the blankets.
Arthur studied Alfred. How young Alfred looked, when he was asleep. There were no demons, no worries, just his dreams. Blond hair shone in the soft morning light. Every so often Alfred would whine about finding another grey hair but Arthur knew he was perfect. Grey hairs and all. The lines and wrinkles that had begun to make themselves known in his skin smoothed in his sleep. That one lock of hair continued to be ridiculous and stand up straight. The only sound was Alfred's soft snores. It reminded Arthur of the past, of the first time he saw Alfred in that coffee shop.
Alfred didn't know about their first meeting, but Arthur reckoned that was when he fell in love.
Another soft snore and Arthur contemplated his choices. He had already disrupted his morning routine, so he indulged himself. He slipped back under the covers, relishing the soft warmth.
A hand reached out. Alfred snored, out like a baby, lost to the abyss of sleep. Arthur smiled, green pool overflowing with love. He cupped Alfred's cheek before entwining his fingers in the sunny locks. A platinum band glinted in the light.
Nothing was quite like listening to the birds, watching the sunrise. But, there was something to be said for sleeping in, relishing in the company, the existence, of a loved one.
Arthur loved mornings.
Dor (Romanian) - The sense of longing when separated from that which you love
A pencil crossed out another day in the calendar.
There were two things Alfred loved: Arthur, and space. What a shame it was, that he could only have one or the other.
The only thing Alfred had ever wanted to be was an astronaut and go the space.
And here he was, in space, and alone. Sure, he had his crewmates, but it just wasn't the same. Loneliness was something he had accepted, had come to terms with, but he hadn't anticipated just how empty he would feel.
It was times like these, when his crewmates were off working or sleeping, when it was quiet enough for Alfred to lose himself in his head, that he missed Arthur the most.
He missed the quiet mornings, when they sat across from each other and shared a stack of pancakes. He missed playing games while lying down in Arthur's lap, where Arthur absentmindedly ran his fingers through Alfred's hair. He missed going on their evening walks, when he chase after animals or be attacked by little kids. He missed cooking with Arthur, even though the food always turned out a little bland. He missed the familiar fluttering sensation whenever Arthur would sneak up behind him after a long day and rub his shoulder, easing out the tension. He even missed fighting with Arthur, because in the end they would always end up in each other's arms (and maybe with a few tears as well).
It was times like these, when he longed for an Arthur to hold in his arms.
He stroked the platinum band across his finger; it was a relaxing motion. For now, he would make the most of his time with his other love: space. He had been working his entire life for this opportunity and he would make the most of it.
Looking at the calendar, it was another day down. In 43 days I can see Arthur again.
执子之手，与子偕老/Zhí zǐ zhī shǒu, yǔ zi xiélǎo (Mandarin Chinese) - To hold hands and grow old together
"I love you. You know that, right?"
Everyday, Arthur and Alfred never failed to go on their evening walk. And everyday, Alfred never failed to reaffirm his love.
Arthur could feel Alfred's eyes on him, seeing through him, knowing him better than anyone else, knowing his deepest, darkest secrets and still loving him without fail. Studying him, admiring him, Alfred squeezed the hand interlocked with his.
Leaves rained along the path, joining fallen brethren on the ground. Arthur admired how the vivid reds, yellows and oranges transformed the world into a fiery landscape. How just a few short months could transform the calm tranquility of spring to the busy hustle of autumn, squirrels and the like rushing about to prepare for the upcoming winter.
It was times like these when Arthur was most conscious of his mortality. The writer in him relished these moments; such beauty, such depth, such humanity. Autumn made him self conscious, when one cycle of life ended to make way for the next. When he was reminded of just how much time he really had. If nature was an artist, then autumn was her magnum opus.
Arthur squeezed back, feeling the ridges in Alfred's skin. Skin hardened by years of tinkering with machines, an astronaut's hands. So different from his own hands that were soft, even after all this time. A writer's hands, with only a few patches of skin toughened from holding a pen for too long, signing too many books. Decades later, Arthur was still taken aback at just how right their hands felt, entwined together just so. He could feel the metal of Alfred's ring pressing into his hand. A dull fluttering sensation pooled in his stomach, by now an old friend.
Arthur looked at Alfred. He took in the blond hair, now streaked with white. That ridiculous lock of hair continued to defy gravity. He took in the once smooth skin, now lined with creases on his forehead and wrinkles at the corner of his eyes. They were getting on in their years now, but Arthur didn't mind. It was a cycle, after all, and all cycles begin again.
"I think my love as rare as any belied with false compare. I love you too."
Ya'aburnee (Arabic) - You bury me; that to live on without a lover would be no life at all
Having buried Alfred only a few mere hours ago, Arthur felt he was doing quite well.
He had spent over sixty years of his life with Alfred. Of course, they hadn't been attached by the hip. There were times when Alfred would be gone for years at a time, busy exploring the universe. But there was always the promise of return.
This time, there was no such promise.
Arthur sat in his rocking chair, ignoring its empty companion, and gazed outside. It was snowing. Arthur wasn't crying. He hadn't shed any tears in the past few days. He was numb.
From the moment he saw Alfred, sleeping in the cafe oh so long ago, his life had revolved around the American. Without him, he wasn't quite sure what to do with himself. Gone were their evening walks, their early morning pillow talks, inventing ambitious new recipes, telling stories of feats in space and irritating students. No more fluttering in his stomach when Alfred did something so classically Alfred.
All of it was gone.
Arthur clasped his hands together in his lap, stroking his ring. The ring, given by Alfred all those year ago was now dulled with age. It was Arthur's most precious possession.
The snow outside dusted the ground, slowly covering what colour remained, painting the world white. Flakes of snow fluttered in the air, dancing on the wind. It was all a white blur to Arthur, what with his failing eyesight and all.
It was a cold winter's day when Arthur leaned back in his rocking chair to take his customary afternoon nap. He was old, and he was tired.
Arthur never woke up.