Matthew Williams lay, pale and bandaged from wrist to bicep, in a hospital bed. He didn't like the room; it was too white, with generic pictures designed neither to excite, nor to depress, hung on the walls to interrupt the never-ending glare. The only sound around him was a heart monitor beeping steadily to his left, and the heavy breathing of his brother and Arthur to his right. The two were asleep on a chair, wrapped up in each other's arms in a way that made Matthew's heart clench with some unnamed emotion. Matthew should be asleep too, in these early hours of the morning, but his overactive thoughts prevented him from dropping off; regardless of his physical exhaustion.
He remembered the daytime – the wretched, empty emotions finally reaching their peak, the moment of deranged ecstasy in which he slit his lower arms with a kitchen knife, the screams of his brother when he was found, blood pooling round him like an amniotic sac, and finally the blessed moment that he was allowed to fall into unconsciousness. It had not been his intention to live.
Looking at the strained and tear-stained faces of his brother and Alfred's lover, he only regretted. Not the fact that he had tried to top himself – no, the pain was enough to have driven the most strong-willed to that precipice – but that he was still causing them pain. It was not their fault that he hadn't the strength of character to make Francis love him. Before, pretending to sleep, he had overheard Alfred saying he had told Francis to stay away. Matthew didn't want his pity, or that veiled look of sympathetic understanding. He knew that if Francis looked upon him with apologies in his eyes, he would die.
Matthew had never been one for melodrama. Preferring to stand in the shadow of Alfred, allowing the larger man's dynamic personality to crop his own into reticence, had only gained him false friends and accidental enemies. Even Arthur and Francis had favoured him; while Alfred was fought over as the most precious of commodities, he was passed from pillar to post, and stifled into laborious acceptance. He did not blame the older nations. He had simply found an easier way to get through life at a young age - as the fire of his youth was knocked out of him by cruel reality, he had grown quieter and yet more quieter in response to the crescendo of modern life. However, as his words became few and far between, his ability to look and to listen had improved exponentially. And this looking and listening became centred on one man – the man whom had shown him le monde, l'amitiť, l'amour – la France. For while he had been abandoned, he remembered the kindness that he had been shown.
However, there was a problem. Matthew was a coward. Love had long since budded, bloomed and stagnated in his chest, and yet even then, Matthew feared telling him. Whenever he was near, every instinct Matthew had screamed for confession, for the release of these long-held, long-unsatisfied feelings, and yet…
Matthew had ignored his instincts, which is a rather dangerous thing to do. Unable to even imagine they would be requited, he retreated further from the social scene (much to the worry of Alfred, in fact, who sometimes was more intelligent than he seemed), and instead left the growing hole in his heart alone. This had not been without impact – no – Matthew could no longer recall what it felt like to feel whole, to feel good about himself. The knowledge of his own cowardice, and his perception of Francis' feelings towards him, had warped into an all-consuming self-hatred that shattered his senses of control and self-preservation, culminating in this.
The straw that broke the camel's back, as it were, was an answer-phone message from Francis on the night before his birthday. Heart pounding, Matthew had pressed play with trembling fingers, only to hear –
'Ah, Mathieu… it seems zat I will not be at your 'ouse tomorrow for your birthday…'
A few giggles, drunken and fleeting.
'… and, well, ze reason is… I can't be bozzered!'
Raucous laughter now. The sound of glasses smashing in the distance.
'I am suuuure you'll 'ave plans wiz ozzer people, non? Ah well, 'oo cares? Anozzer drink!'
Matthew remembered the awful, churning combination of shock, anger and terrible sadness that filled him. He couldn't believe… the one day he… and to mock him? Already painfully on the edge in normality, the message had not only ripped away the thin hope Matthew had that his love would ever be returned, but reminded him of the loneliness and desperation that pervaded his entire life. Shaking from head to foot, with an animalistic wail of pain, he had smashed the answering machine against the wall, and blindly stumbled to the kitchen, ripping open drawers to find the sharpest knife possible. He had planned for this eventuality before with pills, but he hadn't bought any yet, in the vain hope that his situation would improve. So, Plan B. He had ripped his hoodie and shirt off, and finding the largest knife he had, tearing into his arms quickly and methodically. Oddly, there was pain, which he had never thought about when considering this. Only when both arms were slit did he succumb to agonised sobbing, the physical pain of what he had just done paling in comparison with the dashed hope of hundreds of years. Someone who was completely alone had no motivation to live. And alone he was.
He was snapped out of his odd pensiveness by the familiar sound of an argument. Head snapping to the right, he saw that both Alfred and Arthur had disappeared without him noticing. Tuning in to what was happening outside the room, he caught the choked sobs of at least two people, as well as the crack of hand meeting flesh sharply.
'Alfred, A-alfie s-stop! P-please! I know it's his fault that Mattie… that Mattie did this, but p-please, can't you see he's in enough pain?'
Matthew heard Arthur's wail, and the hairs on his skin pricked up in nervous anticipation… could it be?
The sound of violence ended abruptly, the silence interrupted by the broken moans of a grieving man.
'Fuck's sakes, man. Suck it up. I do not pity you, not after Mattie…'
'I-I know. I do not deserve your pity, nor your forgiveness. But please, please, let me talk to 'im. Please. I need to let 'im know that I-'
A door slamming shut cut the conversation off from Matthew's straining ears. He could have cried with frustration – he didn't know if he was hallucinating or not now. Was that really Francis behind the door, crying over him? After a few moments of tense anxiety, the outer door opened once more, along with the door to Matthew's room. Matthew quickly dropped his head to stare into his lap. He didn't want whoever it was to see the look of disappointment on his face because they weren't Francis. Heeled boots rapped on the floor up to the end of his bed, and after schooling himself, Matthew stared upwards, and gasped. There he was, golden hair unusually tousled, aqua eyes teary, and a tremulous half-smile on his lips.