“…But Artie, just look at how dirty it is! It’s dusty, the books are all over the place, there’re a few splotches of …something, on here. Seriously, what even is that? Gross!”
Alfred pulled an exaggeratedly disgusted face, with eyes flicking briefly to his cleaning partner to see if he’d managed to capture his attention. The other man had his back to him and appeared focused on cleaning the living room windows, but his taut back muscles and bent head betrayed him. Just a little more… “I mean, it’s obvious that I dropped the ball big time on this one. Can’t you just come over here and ‘Mary Poppins it up’ for me? You’d make me the happiest boyfriend in the whole, wide world!”
Arthur whirled away from the windows, appalled, and Alfred gave himself a little mental pat on the back. “Bloody hell, Alfred! Did you just use the name Mary Poppins as a verb?” Only Arthur could make something as simple as using slang sound like the most unforgivable of crimes, Alfred mused fondly. “And furthermore, I resent the implication that I’m the one who would best clean that monstrosity you call a ‘bookcase’ based solely on the fact that I’m English.” Arthur folded his arms across his chest, his bright yellow cleaning gloves squeaking slightly in protest, and leveled Alfred with a stern look. “You’re a big boy now, Alfred. I’m certain you’re more than a match for an entire army of dust motes and mold spots. Actually, considering this bookcase is one of your possessions, I wouldn’t be surprised if that indeed was the case and a coup was being staged this moment.”
Alfred threw his head back and laughed. “Actually,” he confessed, “I was referring more to your OCD habit of cleaning everything in sight to perfection. I know that it’s Spring Cleaning and all, but don’t you think you’re being just a tad too thorough? You haven’t moved from those windows in over half an hour!”
Arthur scowled, his cheeks burning pink. “It’s been five minutes, tops! And I doubt you’d know what a ‘thorough cleaning’ looks like given the state this place was in when I moved in two years ago.” His scowl morphed into a triumphant smirk at Alfred’s pout.
“I did, too, clean!” Alfred protested. “I always made sure there was no food anywhere on the bed or couch when you came over and I always knew which underwear had a few more wears in them before they needed to be washed!”
Arthur looked mortified. “Good God, Alfred. Was that actually meant to be an argument in your favor?”
…Ok, so that had sounded better in his head. Alfred floundered a bit to get the conversation back on track when his gaze landed once more on the bookcase. “Well, well why don’t you show me, then? On the bookcase?” He patted the old wood invitingly. “That way we could kill two birds with one stone! The bookcase will get cleaned and I’ll learn how to clean things the proper, Artie way!”
Arthur raised an eyebrow. “Alfred,” he began in a suspicious tone, and Alfred inwardly panicked at the sound. “Why are you so intent on me cleaning this bookcase?”
“Intent? I’m not intent. There’s no intent. Why are you assuming someone’s intending something? I just want you to help me clean the bookcase. What’s weird about asking your boyfriend to come over and clean your bookcase?”
Arthur stared at him in silence for a few beats, until, “…did you huff some of the cleaning supplies when my back was turned?”
“If I say yes, can we drop it and continue cleaning again?”
Arthur muttered something about knowing better and high-strung boyfriends before grabbing some wood cleaner and a cloth. “I suppose the windows can wait awhile.”
Alfred wisely held his tongue.
“First, we should take all of these books off the shelf to get at the whole surface,” Arthur began as he pulled out various tomes on chemistry, biology and other science-related subjects from Alfred’s college days and laid them in neat stacks on the ground nearby. Alfred wanted to say something about condescension but again held his tongue. At least he had Arthur over by the case this time…
“Now, we add a few drops of water to the cloth to make it more effective…” Arthur muttered as he grabbed a small bottle out of Alfred’s hand and proceeded to do so. “Spray a bit of cleaning solution, and wipe.” He demonstrated this last step with an exaggerated swiping motion across the top of the shelf, and asked dryly, “Did you get all that, dear heart, or shall I show you again?”
Alfred was cursing himself ten kinds of fool. Why on Earth had he decided that this would be the best way??
He watched as his boyfriend put the cloth in his hand and closed his fingers around it. “I have faith in you, Alfred,” Arthur stage whispered and gave his hand a few pats. “You can do this!” He panicked as Arthur began to move away again until inspiration struck once more.
“You mean like this?” He asked, swiping the cloth across the side of the bookcase where the wood had grooves, missing the dust gathered in the cracks entirely, and watched in relief as Arthur frowned and snatched the cloth from his hand.
“What are you doing? You’re missing the dust in the cracks entirely!” He groused, turning his full attention to the matter at hand. “You have to take your time and really clean it, Alfred! Get every little nook and cranny…”
Alfred smiled as the other man’s voice trailed off and he lost himself in his task, green eyes narrowing in concentration as he shaped and reshaped the cloth in his hands, trying to find the best way to get at the bits of offending fluff. If he devoted all of his attention to his chore, he might even…there! The tip of Arthur’s tongue was peeking out between his lips, an adorable habit that only appeared when he was completely engrossed in something.
Watching the normally stiff and formal Arthur Kirkland poring over the cracks in his boyfriend’s bookcase with a look of utmost concentration and seriousness made Alfred’s heart turn over in his chest. He wrapped his arms around Arthur from behind snugly, burying his smile in the back of the other man’s neck. “A-Alfred! What-?”
“You always pay such close attention to the little things, Arthur,” he murmured, tilting his head to the side so his boyfriend could hear him better. “Why is that?”
He felt more than heard Arthur’s chuckles, and his smile widened. “Because the Devil is in the details?”
“No, really. Because you’re not like this about everything. You don’t give this kind of attention to rental cars, for example. Or even your own car, for that matter. Sometimes even your work suffers, which is practically unheard of for you! But your books, our home,” me, he doesn’t say, “things like that are always well taken care of. I guess I was just…curious.”
It’s quiet for a while after that, except for the sound of their breathing. Alfred closes his eyes and just is for a while, trying to imprint the moment in his mind.
“I suppose,” Arthur begins uncertainly, and Alfred starts a bit as he hadn’t really expected Arthur to answer his question. “I can attribute that habit to my mother. She would always impress upon me the importance of taking care of…the important things.” Alfred felt a hand settle on top of his own which were clasped together on Arthur’s middle. “…Well-loved things.” Alfred can feel his cheeks heat at the implied declaration. “When I lost her along with the rest of my family, I suppose I started to pay closer attention to certain things.”
Alfred swallowed the sudden lump in his throat and gave his boyfriend a light squeeze before reaching across to cup his cheek in his hand, turning his head gently to the side to press a soft, warm kiss to his lips. They stayed that way for a while, close and intimate, giving and taking light kisses, before Alfred pulled away with fond eyes and a warm smile.
“I love you too, Artie.” He murmured, watching as Arthur ducked his head slightly, catching the small upward curve to his lips. “I love you so much, you know? That’s why I want you to clean the top shelf of my bookcase.”
Arthur was looking at him like he’d grown a second head. “You want me to what?”
Alfred realized with dawning horror how that sounded. “Wait! No, wait, I didn’t mean clean, clean! I meant, ‘clean’, you know?”
“Are you completely unhinged?”
“No, Artie, wait, I meant, I just-” Alfred looked ready to tear his hair out in frustration. “Ugh, just, please, look in the top shelf! Please?”
Arthur looked like he still wanted to give Alfred a piece of his mind, but something in Alfred’s countenance made him relent. “You’re lucky I love you, you nutter,” he told him as he reached up to feel around the shelf above his head. “What were you think-?”
Alfred held his breath as Arthur’s hand paused in its wanderings.
“This-what is this? It feels…fuzzy.” He wrapped his fingers around the object and pulled it down. “Oh God, Alfred, if this is another one of your old experiments, I swear…I’ll…” His eyes widened as they fell on the object lying in the palm of his gloved hand. He snapped his head up to look at Alfred with wide eyes. “Alfred, is this-?”
Alfred got down on one knee in front of Arthur and gently took the small, velvet box from Arthur’s suddenly lax fingers. “I think we’ve focused on the small details enough for one day,” he said, smiling up at Arthur with a bright grin that wavered, just slightly, at the edges. “I’ve been waiting all day to ask you something…well, something rather big, actually."
“Arthur Kirkland, will you marry me?”