Like You Did Before

35: I’d Rather Be That Than Nothing At All

“Are you sure that that is what he said?”

Arthur quirked an amused grin, glancing at Matilda who paced across the kitchen before she turned around, tracing the same path in the opposite direction. He wasn’t surprised that she was surprised. When Iker had suggested that he wasn’t against spending time together, Arthur had been more than a little shocked, but he wanted to go through with it, even if things between him and Matilda still weren’t quite what they’d been before. He still wanted to make the effort to properly get to know the man he knew Matilda adored.

He had little doubt that it would be strange at first. Arthur's feelings for Matilda hadn’t simply disappeared and he knew that that would make it hard to watch her with Iker, but he wanted to give it a shot, especially since Iker had been the one to suggest it. He knew how the other man felt about him. Iker had never been overtly hostile with him, he’d never thrown out insults or dirty looks, but he hadn’t had to for Arthur to know that he wasn’t comfortable with him around, something which had only been further reinforced when Matilda had relayed their fights to him. Iker struggled with Arthur, and Arthur struggled with Iker too, but he was optimistic that they could learn to put it behind them, even if they didn’t grow into close friends. He was confident that, as the two people who adored Matilda the most, they could figure out a way to coexist.

“I can show you the text again if you want me to” Arthur chirped “Though, I didn’t think it was that ambiguous” he added.

Matilda stopped pacing for a moment of offer him a glare, something which made Arthur chuckle before he reached out to her, capturing her hand as she paced past him again. Tugging her to a stop, he held onto her hand for a second longer before he dropped it, pushing a grin onto his face as he looked up at her again.

Matilda knew that his smile was forced, but she didn’t comment on it. She knew that if she asked, things would only become awkward again. “He asked you to come over” she said softly.

Arthur nodded. “He’s got an afternoon off” he continued, repeating what he’d already told her twice “And he thought that I’d like to come and see the little one. He asked me to be here, Mattie” he insisted.

“I know” Matilda said “You showed me the text, and you’ve told me twice. It means a lot” she added, the tops of her cheeks flushing sheepishly.

Arthur's hand itched to reach out for hers again, but he stopped himself, settling for offering her another slightly put on grin.

Matilda smiled back at him, allowing a slightly awkward silence to stretch between the two of them, but it was quickly broken when the doorbell sounded, causing Matilda’s face to light up before she could stifle it. Ducking her head bashfully, she skittered out of the room, returning a few moments later with Iker in tow, their finger’s twined together. It was the first thing Arthur noticed. He didn’t see the hand Iker had extended towards him, or the polite smile that was spread across his face, he just saw his hand in Matilda’s for a few seconds before he forced himself to blink, placing his hand into Iker’s grip.

“Arthur” Iker greeted, shaking his hand “I’m glad that you could make it” he added.

Arthur cleared his throat. “Art” he corrected “Call me Art. I’m glad to be here” he added.

“Art” Iker repeated “Have you seen Lola yet? Is she up from her nap?” he asked, turning to look at Matilda.

Matilda shook her head. “She’s still got another ten minutes before I go and wake her” she mused.

Iker nodded, allowing a moment of silence to linger between the three of them, before Matilda gestured towards the fridge. “My papa dropped by this morning” she mused “He left some of his brownies behind. Can I interest either of you?” she asked.

Both Iker and Arthur smiled in relief before they nodded.

“I can’t believe how big she’s gotten” Arthur cooed as he fussed over Lola, his eyes drifting towards Iker who was perched on the couch a little away from him. They’d been alone for a few minutes. Matilda had ducked out of the room to take a call from a work colleague and had left the two of them alone, and until Arthur had spoken, neither of them had said a word, not quite sure what there was that they could say to one another. They had made polite conversation. With Matilda around to smooth things along, they’d been able to talk easily, even make each other laugh a couple of times with stories that had had Matilda sheepishly hiding her face in playful embarrassment, but with her gone, it was like the two of them had no idea how to act.

Iker’s expression brightened with a doting smile as he glanced down at Lola. “She seems to grow every time I look at her” he commented “I don’t know whether that’s a good thing, or a bad thing” he added.

Arthur glanced back down at the baby. “She was so terrified when she found out” he said softly “Mattie” he clarified.

“I remember” Iker replied, biting back a comment about how Arthur had known before he had that Matilda was pregnant “She tried to hide it from me, but I could see it. She’s got a tell” he added.

“The fidgeting” Arthur replied knowingly “That, and she doesn’t meet your eyes” he added.

Iker nodded his head slowly. He doubted that he’d ever get used to the fact that there was always going to be someone around that knew Matilda better than he did. He knew a lot of her quirks, he knew a lot about her, but his knowledge paled in comparison to Arthur's. He’d known Matilda for most of his life and knew things about her that Iker doubted he’d ever learn.

Arthur saw the expression on the keeper’s face, something which caused him to shake his head, his eyes refocussing on Lola. “I wish I knew what to say to make this less weird” he said “Mattie’s my best friend, Iker, and you’re important to her, so I want to make some kind of effort with you, but it’s’s weird and I don’t think it’s getting less weird any time soon” he added.

“You’ve forgotten more about her than I know” Iker said quietly.

Arthur shook his head, a rueful smile on his features. “That doesn’t make a difference” he murmured “You’re still the one she wants to be with. If it was as simple as knowing her, then maybe the roles would be reversed, but it isn’t. There’s something about you that she loves in a different way to how she loves me, something that made her want to try and figure this thing out between you, and me and her, we don’t have that. Can I tell you the story of how she embarrassed herself in front of our entire class when we were eight? Sure. Can I get her to look at me the way she looks at you? Not even if I tried for the rest of my life” he added.

Iker was quiet for a moment. “Why still hang around, then?” he asked.

Arthur's expression tightened, causing Iker to shake his head. “I am not...I didn’t mean it like that” he spluttered “I just...isn’t it hard? Being around her, feeling like you do. Why would you keep doing it?” he asked, hoping he’d made himself clearer.

Arthur's lips ticked up into a smile. “Because she’s my best friend” he replied as though it was the most obvious thing in the world “And I would rather be that to her, than nothing at all. I want to see her happy, and you and Lola make her that, so if I need to sit through a few more awkward meetings, I will, because I know how much it means to her. I know how much you mean to her” he added, fixing Iker with a warm look. He couldn’t shake the ache in his chest when he saw them together, but he knew he could learn to live with it if it mean that Matilda stayed happy.

Iker’s eyes searched Arthur's face, looking for any sign that he didn’t mean what he was saying, before he opened his mouth to reply, only to be cut off as Matilda swanned back into the room. “I’m so sorry about that” she mused as plopped into the space next to Iker “He needed me to clarify some notes I’d sent back to him. Are we doing OK in here?” she posed, leaning over to lift Lola out of Arthur’s arms.

The two men shared a look before Iker nodded, his smile slightly hesitant. “Yeah, I think we are” he mused “Right, Art?” he prodded.

Arthur looked at the three of them, watching as Iker leant over and smoothed Lola’s t-shirt before his arm settled around Matilda’s waist and he touched a gentle kiss to her temple, before he quirked a soft smile. “Yeah” he confirmed “I think so too” he added.
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Thanks to Jayme112234 for the comments :)