"'What he asked'?" Francis repeated as he walked with Matthew to his office. "What did he ask you?"
Matthew gripped his envelope tight. "...He asked me out..."
"Oh..." Francis wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "Is that what this is about?"
Matthew nodded and looked away.
"From what Gilbert said," Francis continued, "It sounds like you didn't answer him."
"How could I?" Matthew asked looking up at him. "It was completely out of nowhere! We were talking about the pictures and then he just asked..."
"Well... What do you think your answer would be?"
"I-I don't know..." Matthew asked. "...I mean, I can't date Gilbert..."
"B-Because he's your friend! That'd be weird!"
Francis got to his office and began filing a few things. "I don't think so. It's not like he and you are related. Do you like him?"
Matthew blushed and his fingers were beginning to wrinkle his envelope. "I...I do but...I've only known him two months now... A-and, he's eight years older than me!"
"I honestly don't see your point, Mathieu. You like him. That means you've already ruled out those two factors. And eight years isn't a huge difference. My parents had thirteen years between them."
"But..." Matthew was having trouble finding arguments. "...Neither of us have our own place."
"..." Francis closed down his computer and got his keys before going to the door. There he stopped and turned back around to Matthew. "...I'm not really supposed to tell anyone this until it's decided but..." He looked away. "...Gilbert's been planning to move out for a while now."
"R-really?" Matthew watched Francis carefully. "But why won't he tell anyone?"
"Well, it's mostly..." Francis paused trying to find the right words. "He doesn't know whether or not he'll move somewhere else here or if he'll go back to Germany."
Matthew was paralyzed. He felt his hands seize up and he bit his lip. "...But why?"
"His father is getting old and sick and wants one of his sons to take over the family company." Francis opened the door and held it for Matthew to pass. "I'm not sure either really wants to go but Gilbert has considered it."
Matthew shook his head out of his paralysis and stepped out slowly. "But why? Gilbert said he couldn't imagine being away from his brother as long as I did away from mine a few months ago..."
"It's true but his father is insisting..." Francis wrapped his arm back around Matthew's shoulder as they walked back to the elevator. "There's also a lot of money in the Beilschmidt enterprise, enough to make the most modest of men flinch."
"Oh..." Matthew continued to avoid eye contact as they stepped into the elevator. "And if he doesn't take it?"
"Ludwig might..." Francis said. "He does have a family to support... They're both equally trained for the job."
"If they're both trained to be the owners of a big enterprise, why are they mechanics?"
"Because they like it more," Francis said. "They're very good at it too."
They stepped out to the underground parking and got to the car where Gilbert was playing music aloud out of boredom. He turned it down when they got near but it was still loud enough to be identified as foreign lyrics and it made Matthew's chest fall as he slipped into the back. Neither he nor Gilbert looked at the other and Francis could feel the tension as he got into the passenger seat.
They drove home without a single word uttered.
The next evening, Arthur arranged a get-together with Matthew and they had coffee at the café near Arthur's. From the simple greetings and constant fidgeting, Arthur could tell that the young man was upset about something but when he asked about it, Matthew avoided answering so the Brit decided to stick to his original question.
"Yesterday, I asked about how you come to the hospital rather often," Arthur said. "I don't mean to pry, but it's still a bit suspicious that your charts loosely say stomach virus. I've never seen anyone with a stomach virus come in that often and I'm concerned, being friends and all..."
"Oh, well..." Matthew rotated his coffee. "You know Feliciano?"
"Yes, of course."
"I...I can do what he can do..."
"You can...?" Arthur thought about it for a second. "...You're pregnant?!"
Matthew blushed and nodded, almost shrinking behind his cup.
Arthur furrowed his eyebrows. "But, why couldn't you have just told me?"
"Well... You know, it's really rare and...I really don't want the media to find out and everything..." Matthew took a sip of his coffee. "And it's not really something I'm proud of..."
"I understand... I can be difficult to come to terms with in the beginning," Arthur said. "And some people call it a gift but not everyone might think so..."
Matthew nodded. "It feels more like a curse..."
Arthur put a hand on Matthew's arm. "It's alright... But I must ask... Where's the father in all this?"
Matthew pursed his lips. "I... I left him long before I even knew I was pregnant, before I met any of you as well. He doesn't know about the baby."
"Do you think maybe you should contact him?" Arthur asked, rubbing his arm.
"No." Matthew's response was immediate and concrete. "I don't want him anywhere near me or my child."
"That bad, huh?" Arthur stirred his coffee. "You shouldn't really drink too much of this stuff in your condition..."
"Not you too..." Matthew frowned. "Francis reminds every day. This is the only coffee I've had all day, okay?!"
"Calm down, Mattie, I'm not trying to pester you..." Arthur said.
"But no one seems to understand how hard this is for me!" Matthew said. "I don't have my own place, I work for pennies, and my child doesn't have a father!"
"I understand how that must be very upsetting for you," Arthur said, making a note that Matthew was entering his hormonal stages of pregnancy. "But we're all here for you. You can talk to me like this whenever you like. Francis is there for you. Antonio and Gilbert too..."
"Gilbert asked me out..." Matthew said staring down into his coffee and Arthur nearly choked on his own.
"He what? When?"
"Yesterday..." Matthew said. "When we were leaving the hospital, he asked me out in the elevator."
Arthur leaned forward a little. "What did you say?"
"Nothing... I didn't know what to say and then Francis got on the elevator and I went to his office with him."
"So you ran away?"
Arthur drank a little more of his coffee. "What do you think you would've said?"
"I... I don't know..." Matthew looked up to Arthur again. "I thought 'yes' at first but then 'no' and then 'definitely yes' and then 'definitely no'... I honestly don't know what to say."
"If it troubles you this much, say 'no'," Arthur said. "It's clearly upsetting you."
"'No'?" Matthew looked a little confused. "Francis told me to say 'yes'..."
"Who cares what Francis says? He's his best friend. Of course he's going to support his best friend," Arthur said. "They're wingmen. I'm telling you that you should reason this out. Why do you want to date him and why not?"
"I want to date him because..." Matthew took his time to think. "Because I really like him... He's really nice to me and he seems really caring to those who are close to him. He's pretty funny too..."
"You forgot impulsive and egotistical..." Arthur said drumming his fingers on his cup. "But I get it. He's charming in his own way... But now, why don't you want to date him?"
"Well... It's less about him and more about the fact that I don't think I'm ready for another relationship..." Matthew said. "I just went through a short and very terrible one... And what if I have this baby, they get attached to him but we don't work out? Then my child loses a father figure..."
"I understand that..."
"But at the same time," Matthew continued, "I don't want to deny them one either. You know, like the saying that goes something like, 'It's better to have loved and lost to not have loved at all'. I do want my child to have some kind of father..."
"Well, coming from a boy who never knew his real father, I did get a little attached to one or two of my mother's suitors but it was mostly because they gave me candy..." Arthur scratched his chin. "One of them I liked a lot but he cheated on my mother and she didn't tell me until I was older so at the time I really upset and thought she sent him away for no reason. But I got over it, especially once she told me the truth. I also don't blame her for trying to find love. I don't think you're son or daughter would blame you for trying to find love."
"Yeah... And I don't really want to raise a child on my own... I want my baby to have a father."
"But do you think Gilbert could fill those shoes?" Arthur said, resting his chin on his knuckle.
Matthew looked out the window for a second. "He's so good with his niece... Not once have I seen him refuse a babysitting offer at his brother's place. And Antonio told me he practically raised Ludwig because their parents were away so much."
"That may be true... But they are related to him. Do you think he could care as much for a child that has no relation to him?"
Matthew looked down. "...I don't know. But, I don't see why not... People do it all the time."
"But not everyone can."
Matthew nodded slowly. "This is all so complicated..."
"I know, dear..." Arthur reached out and rubbed his arm again. "But you're clearly a very smart person, trying to figure this all out. I think if you take your time to think this through, you'll be fine. And always remember, you have your brother and Francis but you can also talk to me whenever you like."
"Thank you Arthur..." Matthew smiled a little. "You're so kind. It makes me curious... Why are you always so bitter to Francis?"
Arthur went silent and Matthew panicked a little.
"I didn't mean to be prying or-or...say what you’re doing is wrong... I'm sure you have your reasons..."
Arthur retreated back to his cup. "It's alright, Matt... I know you mean well... My relation to Francis is just...complicated. It's not that he's a bad person; we just clash. We don't share the same principles. That's all."
"Okay." Matthew checked his watch and slowly got up. "I have to go or I'll be late for dinner. I'm really glad I talked to you. You really helped me."
Arthur stood as well and gave Matthew a hug. "It's always a pleasure talking with you, Mattie. We're friends, right?"
"Of course!" Matthew smiled and slipped on his coat. "I'll see you later, okay?"
"Yes, good-bye Matthew."
Matthew slipped his gloves on and waved as he left. Arthur watched him go, hoping he'd get home safely, before he too pulled on his coat and left the café.