He ran his fingers through his pale blonde hair and waited impatiently for her reply. Deep down, he wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her—to shake some sense into her, maybe—but he wasn't that kind of person, and so he couldn't, and didn't. Instead, he stood still, trying to keep the agitation out of his expression and the pain out of his eyes, all the while chewing on his lip so hard he could taste metal.
He'd never wanted anything so badly, had never fought with Alfred over anything growing up—had always thought of himself as a sharer, a man of compromise and sacrifice, but now, he wasn't so sure anymore. He wasn't sure he could share her. He thought he might fade into a million individual cells held together by a ghost of a human shape if he ever had to compromise on anything regarding her.
Yet she, unable to read his mind, only bit her lip and grimaced apologetically, oblivious to the twisting in his stomach.
"I can't," she said, looking down at her feet. She let out a quiet sigh, and the shade under her eyes appeared to darken. "I'm sorry, Matthew, I—"
"Why not?" His hands clenched into fists and he dug his nails into his palms, focusing on the pain to soothe his nerves. He kept his tone even as he said, "He's playing around. He doesn't love you."
"You don't know that," she said, a little irritated. "In his own way—"
"I love you more," he said, huskily.
She blinked, taken aback by his forwardness, and by the sheer emotion he'd thrust into that one sentence. A blush swept across her delicate features, and her tongue tripped over itself when she spoke again: "You're mistaken."
"How can you say that?" It was his turn to be irritated. The urge to cup her face in his hands and make her look at him, dead-on, washed over him and threatened to pull him under, but he resisted, shoving his hands into his pockets. "How can you possibly say I'm mistaken when I'm the one who feels these feelings? You're not me; you can't invalidate my feelings. How can you possibly tell me I'm wrong when I say I love you, because how is my loving you wrong?"
Her eyes widened, and she snapped her mouth shut.
For a moment, he worried he'd gone too far and shown her more than she could take, and he cursed himself for letting all of those sleepless nights and ripped up letters spill out of him. Regret flickered within him as he wondered if he was ruining what they already had by pushing her like this, because if he was...
Then she broke the silence, in a voice that made his chest tighten. "It's not," she replied, to his surprise. She took in a deep breath and held it in. "But how else am I supposed to react when you say something like that? What else can I do but try to brush it off? Don't we all say things we don't really mean so we don't have to look at ourselves too hard?"
"I've told you so many times before that I love Alfred, but where did that lead us? Nowhere. Here." She looked down at her hands, twisted together as if she were clinging to herself. "If—if I say I understand that you love me, it still won't take us anywhere. You want me to be with you, and Matthew, I love you, but not in the way you need to be loved."
"There's only one way I need to be loved, and it involves you," he said, his voice breaking.
Her face suddenly crumpled, as if something had burst inside of her, and a tear slid down her cheek. "God, Matthew, you're so corny."
"What's so great about Alfred?" he said, his voice barely audible.
"What's so great about me?" she returned, closing her eyes.
"I don't know, but—"
"I don't know why I love Alfred, either. I only know I do, even though he's such a jerk—even though he keeps running off with that girl—"
He kissed her, and the rest of her sentence was spoken into his mouth, muffled and torn. As she sobbed, trying to untangle herself from him, he held her close and sought to find something comforting to say; but there were no words he hadn't tried on himself already, and he knew words were useless, anyway. Words were weightless.
When he finally released her, her eyes were as red as her lips, and she raised a hand to hide her face.
"Why?" she breathed. "Why, Matthew? Alfred—"
"Forget about him," he said, roughly. "I don't care anymore. I don't care if you think you're happy with him because you're not."
"Was," he emphasized.
"I'm afraid," she said.
And she didn't have to specify what she was afraid of. He knew. He was afraid of the same thing.
"Aren't we all?" he whispered.
She wiped her face with her sleeve. "I think..." she began.
He heard the tremble in her voice, and leaned in to kiss her again. This time, she didn't resist. Her lips moved beneath his, and his heart started to pound as if his life depended on it, in more ways than one.
And maybe it did, he thought dazedly, trying not to think as he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her closer.
Maybe it did.