The first in a series of, oddly enough, talks in bars. The first set revolves around England and America.
Dammit. Why do these two just… invite angst?! It drives me crazy! I tried, I really did, to keep this from turning into a depressing piece of shit. I think we can safely say that plan fell through in a heartbeat. Written in disjointed bits that may or may not actually work together.
Warnings: Language. Poor grammar. Bastardization and stereotyping of accents. Eventual sorta slash. Pretty blatantly out of character Alfred and to an extent Arthur as well. If you have problems with any of these things, a good click of that back button might be in order.
Disclaimer: I may be a duchess of Sealand, but I still don't own APH. Or Jack Daniels. But if you put those two things I don't own together you may just stumble across something awesome.
As always, feedback of any sort is mounted on gold plaques to be hung in my apartment.
Talks in Bars
Scene 1: Since Ago
Arthur downed his fifth beer, slamming the glass on the bar table when he had drained the dregs from the bottom. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, shooting a glare at the nation sitting next to him.
"Say that one more time."
Alfred grinned. "Aluminum."
"Gah," Arthur blanched, letting his forehead thunk down on the bartop. "I thought I taught you better than that. But now here you are dropping your 'u's everywhere and saying aluminum when it's clearly aluMINIum." The British man lolled his head to the side to fix one narrowed emerald eye on the smirking American's face. "Do you really hate my language that much?"
"Nah," Alfred said, taking a swig of beer. "Don't hate it. It just wasn't… me, ya know? Had to mix it up."
Arthur groaned, clenching his eyes shut, "'Ya know'? Ugh. It's enough to make me want to vomit all over you."
"Then plug your ears and turn around," Alfred said, rolling his eyes. "Besides, I've heard how you talk sometimes. I mean, cockney? The hell is that? It's like someone kicked a guy square in the balls and then recorded his gargled noises of pain."
"I'll have you know that dialect has a rich and varied history," Arthur snapped, waving the barkeep over to order another beer. "And I'd rather listen to a thousand Welsh men having an inebriated singing contest than to be forced to endure even a second of that thing you so erroneously refer to as a 'Southern drawl'."
"Some people think it sounds homey," Alfred muttered into his glass.
Arthur snorted. "'Homey'. Synonymous with 'simple', I'm sure. What a bastardized tongue. Nothing like the Queen's English I speak."
"Oh?" Alfred raised an eyebrow, grinning. "Guess that makes you a queen then, huh."
"Haha. Your stunning wit cripples me," said Arthur, elegantly rolling his eyes.
Alfred took a drag of beer and decided to switch topics before the British man's sarcasm overwhelmed the entire room. "Anyway, I hear you've got an Industrial Revolution thing going' on. How's that workin' out for ya?"
Arthur waved a hand dismissively, "Oh, that. Hardly even worth mentioning, really. Although," he paused, thick eyebrows knit in thought, "it is rather nice not having to make shit by hand anymore. But don't even get me started on what it's doing to my house. God awful mess, I'll tell you what."
Alfred gave a weak chuckle, but the strained sound quickly faded. What limited conversation they'd been having came to a screeching halt, and both nations stared into their depleted glasses of beer until Alfred suddenly spoke. "So…India, huh? What's it like over there?"
"Hot. Lot of cows. Can't eat them, you know," Arthur said, pushing his glass away and resting his chin on his hand. "My new boss is very big on expanding my house. Even took a chunk off of China after a spot of… unpleasantness. Quiet kid. Not really into the whole conversation bit."
Alfred folded his arms over his chest, and looked off to the side. "Tryin' to make up for what you lost?"
Arthur sat quietly looking at his hands, and when he spoke, his voice was tinged with hesitation, as though choosing every word with the utmost caution. "I… I'm not sure I recall losing anything."
"What do you recall then?" Alfred said, his voice lowering dangerously. "Because as I remember it, you got your ass handed to you pretty severely. Twice. Within a span of fifty years."
Arthur's knuckles turned white as he gripped his glass, attempting to keep his temper reigned in. "All I can remember is an ungrateful, deluded little brat who thought he could just do whatever struck his fancy and the whole world would kowtow before him."
Alfred's eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to speak before he seemed to think better of it. Instead he drained the rest of his beer, rose to his feet, and threw some money down on the bar. "I knew this was pointless. A hundred years later and we still can't get the past behind us." He laughed mirthlessly, "Although I guess I shouldn't be surprised. You and France have been at each other's throats for, what? Centuries? I'll pass on that, thanks. Call me up again in another hundred years. Maybe then we'll be able to sit through an entire evenin' without resortin' to takin' jabs at each other."
With that, Alfred turned on his heel and headed for the door, throwing a mock salute over his shoulder at the exasperated nation sitting alone at the bar.
Arthur watched the younger man leave, before heaving a sigh and pushing aside empty beer bottles to lay his head on the bar top.
"You stupid ponce," he muttered, burying his face in his arm. "Why do you insist on making things so difficult?"
Scene 2: Acquiescence
The stool next to Arthur made a screeching noise as it was dragged across the scuffed tiles. The thick browed man managed to pry his eyes away from his drink to turn and watch the younger nation sidle into the seat, waving over the barkeep to order his first round. Arthur stared, watching the American's Adam's apple bob up and down as the other man took his first shot of whiskey, and tried to think of something to say that didn't involve either the words "fucking moron" or some sort of grateful sentimental drivel that still threatened to spill out past his teeth
Alfred set his tumbler down on the bar top, wincing as the acrid drink burned its way down his throat. Arthur started slightly as the younger man turned to fix inquisitive blue eyes on his face.
"So," Alfred said, the corner of his mouth threatening to twitch up in the beginnings of a smile. "I'm assumin' this is your way of thankin' me for savin' your pathetic hide?"
"Hardly," the British man attempted to school his voice into a cool and distant tone, "Consider this a favor. I'm letting you come here and bask in the glory of our mutual victory."
Alfred picked up his next shot and laughed derisively, "You must have a stick up your ass a mile long that keeps you from ever sayin' thanks."
"I fail to see what I should be grateful for," Arthur sniffed, cracking open his next bottle of beer on the counter top. "You love to play the magnificent hero. The way I see it, you owe me for letting you fulfill your… what's that phrase you like to throw around… ah yes, 'Manifest Destiny' or whatever cock-and-bull philosophy you're bantering around to try and justify your lust for land, power and prestige."
"What can I say. I had a good teacher," Alfred said, drumming his fingers on the table. "And just to keep things straight, 'Manifest Destiny' didn't have nothin' to do with it. Stopped hidin' behind that a long time ago."
"So you say."
They both drank in silence for a moment, before Alfred whipped around to point one accusing finger at the older man's face, "And for the record, you were cowerin', cowerin' in a trench with France of all nations, diggin' foxholes and prayin' Germany wouldn't smoke your ass into the next century."
"Hey, I had a plan," Arthur snapped, pushing Alfred's hand out of his face, "And it would have worked too if I'd had a bit more time to properly lay it out."
Alfred rolled his eyes, "Right. A plan. You sure it wasn't more along the lines of 'Take cover in a trench with my ex-mortal enemy and wait for America to come swoopin' in and save my sorry ass'?"
Arthur toyed with his empty bottle of beer, long fingers picking away at the damp label. "God, you're…you…I-I didn't… think…" he trailed off. The pile of shredded label grew.
"Think what?" Alfred said, his good mood suddenly soured, angrily taking a swig of beer. "Didn't think you'd ever know France could be sucha good foxhole buddy? Didn't think Germany could even aim wortha damn? Didn't think 'The War to End All Wars' would be so painfully shitty?" He placed his glass on the counter with barely controlled restraint, memories of an ungrateful war bubbling oily to the surface of his mind. "Come on, England. You think I barely have a grasp of the English language, so what's stoppin' you from one-uppin' me? What're you waitin' for? Lemme hear your oh-so-witty prose, you smug motherfu-"
"I didn't think you would come."
Alfred stopped mid-rant, his face still slightly flushed with anger, arms frozen in the middle of a grand and exasperated gesture. After a moment he slowly lowered his arms, folding them across his chest, and sat down on the bar stool, for once letting the older nation speak uninterrupted.
Arthur gave a shaky sigh, swiveling on his stool to face Alfred, cheeks tinged slightly pink with embarrassment. "I-I didn't think you would come." He continued haltingly, seemingly encouraged by America's lack of scathing commentary. "And I never thought it would end. You must remember a bit of what it was like, down in those… those pits." The sandy-blonde haired man gave an uncontrolled shudder, pressing his fingers against his temples, phantom explosions ringing in his ears. "France and I… we were there for months. Barely surviving. Not even sure we even wanted to survive anymore. Watching mortars fall like hellish rain, gagging down months-old hardtack, disease, rubbish, death…"
Arthur shook his head, clearing the fog of unbidden memories from his mind. He opened another bottle of beer on the bar top, taking a deep draught. All the while, Alfred just stared on, an unreadable expression on his face, fingers resuming their slow drumming on the pitted surface of the counter. The British man lowered his beer, his voice subdued. "It felt like being trapped in a loop. The same thing day after day. And then," he shot the younger man a look, searching for a response. "And then," he continued hesitantly, "You showed up. Against all reason. And I wanted to hate you for just strolling in like you owned the front. For taking charge. For kicking France and me out of those trenches and throwing yourself in instead without a backwards glance. For showing up at all." Arthur's mouth curled up in a caustic smile, "But I couldn't do it. I couldn't hate you. And it was then…that I realized...that…"
Arthur turned away from the other nation, letting his head fall on arms he had folded on top of the counter. He continued in a strained voice, a part of him recognizing that he'd had, perhaps, a bit too much to drink. "I realized that you didn't need me anymore." He gave a muffled, bitter chuckle. "I'd known for a long time, of course. Ever since you shoved that rifle in my face and told me politely to get the fuck out of your house. Ever since you switched to coffee and started spelling colour without the u and made your own overly complicated flag that you seem to enjoy plastering over everything that stands still long enough for you to get close."
"But still I'd never realized. Isn't it curious how we can know something, know it to the very core of our being, and yet never realize? But when I saw you, not even moving, not even speaking, just standing there with those shells exploding not five feet away with that damnable grin plastered on your smug face, I just-"
Arthur stopped himself and sat up, rubbing one war-roughened hand across his bleary eyes. Alfred hadn't moved from his spot, perched on the edge of his stool, his head tilted forward, bangs falling over his glasses to shield his eyes.
Arthur gave a weak chuckle, "I suppose I should know my limit by now. Sorry about that, I-"
"I'm not a child anymore, Arthur."
Alfred's quiet tenor barely cut through the noise of the bar, and Arthur had to lean forward slightly just to catch the words. Alfred raised his head to meet Arthur's covertly panicked and stricken gaze. "I'm not a child anymore," he repeated with more confidence in his voice, sitting up straight and folding his hands on top of the counter. "Haven't been one for a long time. And for some reason, I can never seem to leave well enough alone. Can't seem to keep myself from gettin' involved in anythin' and everythin'." The young nation hesitated, before letting a quiet smile flash across his features. "But you may be wrong."
Arthur's thick eyebrows rose towards his hairline, "Wrong. About what, exactly?"
Alfred reached forward to gently poke the older man's forehead with one blunt finger, a true smile slowly breaking out across his face.
"I came when you called, didn't I?"
He raised his hand to slowly run his fingers through a few wayward strands of the British man's sandy blonde hair. Arthur froze, unwilling to move for fear of shattering the moment.
Alfred's smile widened, as he leaned forward to whisper.
"How much more needy could I get?"
Scene 3: Of Unknown Solace
This time it was Arthur who showed up late. He pushed open the rutted and scarred bar door, eyes already sweeping the darkened room for a familiar form. It was late, and the pub had long ago let loose all its patrons back onto the inviting streets. All save for one, lone figure. America was seated hunched over the counter in the very center of the bar top, his jacket thrown haphazardly across the stool next to him. Bottles and empty tankards littered the countertop around him. The young nation sat with this head in his hands, one foot anxiously tapping against the side of his seat. The jukebox played on softly in the background.
Arthur let the door close gently behind him, taking a few hesitant steps towards the bar. America didn't acknowledge his presence, save for a slight pause in the otherwise steady rhythm of his tapping foot. Arthur cautiously made to sit down on the stool to the right of the other man, unsure if his presence would be a welcome intrusion into the blonde's sanctuary. The loud screeching noise of the barstool temporarily drowned out the lilting voice of the jukebox, masking the fretful tap-taping of one standard issue Army boot against oak furniture. Arthur winced at the invasive noise, but decided it was as good of an ice breaker as any.
"I didn't think you'd still be here," the British man said suddenly, deciding in an instant to throw all his chips in at once. He gave up any semblance of trying to be stealthy, sitting down next to the American with a loud clatter and grabbing one of the few untouched beers off of the counter.
"Where else would I be."
America's voice sounded normal enough, and Arthur caught a blurry glimpse out of the corner of his eye of the other man sitting up and brushing the wrinkles from his uniform. Alfred popped his back with a quiet sigh, reaching out and snagging the almost empty bottle of Jack lying abandoned in front of him. He poured himself a shot before turning to the older nation questioningly.
Arthur narrowed his eyes, but held out a glass. Alfred poured the drink wordlessly, and leaned forward on his elbows, staring into the full tumbler. His boot resumed its restless drumming.
Arthur eyed the hazy liquid apprehensively for a moment, before deciding that if there ever was a better time to get completely sloshed he'd rather not live to see it. He downed the shot in one gulp, coughing slightly at the unexpected rancor. "G-good Lord, what is this swill?" he managed to choke out, shakily holding out his glass for another.
"A taste of home," said Alfred, shoving his own untouched tumbler across the bar to the other man. "Had to stop makin' it for a while. Tastes different than I remembered." He smiled bitterly, "Feels good to reminisce though."
Arthur took the tumbler, hiding his uncertainly with another shot of the liquid. It burned a little less this time. He glanced at the bottle. "Just how much have you been reminiscing?"
"More than I'd cared to," came the American's murmured reply as he picked up the bottle and took a long swig. He set the now empty bin down on the bar top with a quiet thud, his fingers still gripping the square edges. "You wanna tell me what you're doin' here at five in the mornin'?"
"Do I need a reason?"
"Most people normally do, yeah."
"We're not most people."
Alfred grinned abrasively. "Nah. Guess we're not."
"To tell you the truth," Arthur's voice quieted. The jukebox stilled as it changed records. The silence was deafening. "To tell the truth… I was asked to."
"The hell kinda language is that. Passive voice. Minus three points."
"Would you stop being so goddamn flippant for a fucking second?" Arthur hissed, resisting the urge to reach out and shake the man. "You know bloody damn well who asked me."
America pushed aside the now useless bottle, searching for a new distraction. He found one in the form of an unopened bottle of vodka, and snapped open the top, watching the clear liquid spill into his waiting glass. "I might have an idea," he said offhandedly, downing his drink in a flash of movement.
"He's on the mend."
"Good to know."
"He wants to see you."
"Didn't he get the flowers I sent?"
"It's not enough, Alfred," Arthur sighed, gesturing for the bottle.
The other man stilled his hand in surprise for a moment before handing over the quickly vanishing bottle.
"You know what's really fucked up about all this?"
"Do I have to choose just one thing?" asked Arthur wryly. "And this tastes even worse than what you had."
"That's the first time you've said my name in close to two hundred years."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "You say your own name enough for the two of us. I fail to see why my saying it should provoke any sort of reaction whatsoever."
"Course you wouldn't," Alfred said caustically. "You never attach the right meanin' to anythin'."
"Please tell me this is just the drink talking."
Alfred continued, snatching the bottle away from the other man. "You gave me my name, you fuckin' moron," he snapped. "You gave it to me and then tried to take it away again. Because you know what power there is in just a simple name. The last time you called me by anthin' other than my goddamn title was December 17th, back in 1773."
"Down to the very day? No timestamp though. I'm a bit disappointed."
"'Get the hell out of my house, Alfred,'" the American's voice was suddenly cold and haughty, his blue eyes focused on the other man's face. "'You have forced my hand. Whatever may be the consequence, I must now risk something. If I do not, all is over.'"
Arthur blinked in astonishment at the words spat out in a derisive parody of his own voice. "You… you remember all of that?"
"'Course," said Alfred bitterly. "Who wouldn't cling to the final vestiges of his hero's words?"
Arthur faltered slightly. "And… since then?"
The jukebox flared to life again, strains of the scratchy record bleeding into the corners of the room.
"Don't bother," Alfred cut the older man off. "I try not to hold grudges, but you forcin' an apology makes that policy pretty damn hard to follow."
"Well then what do you want me to do?" Arthur grew frustrated. "I never know what stunt you're going to pull next! Never know what asinine thing is going to spew out of that obnoxious mouth of yours to sully the air around me! I mean, Jesus," Arthur shook his head, running an aggravated hand through his tousled hair. "You just accomplished something no one but the daft and insane had ever dreamed was even possible. You crippled a nation in two short, vicious blows without even batting an eye. You-"
Alfred stood, the sudden movement pushing the stool to the hard ground with a loud clatter. He grabbed the shorter man by the collar, eyes flashing with suppressed fury, drawing back his fist to belt the other man across the face. Arthur winced reflexively, preparing himself for the blow.
But it never came.
The seconds ticked on, marked by the wavering lonely voice of the jukebox. Arthur cautiously looked up to see the anger slowly dissipating from the taller man's sunken blue eyes. Alfred lowered his fist, taking one long, shuttering breath before gradually unclenching his fist from the fabric around Arthur's neck.
They stood for a moment, neither able to meet the other's gaze. When Alfred spoke, his voice sounded detached and hollow. "I've done somethin', haven't I. Somethin' that'll change the world."
"Perhaps," said Arthur, fighting back the urge to wrap his arms around the other man. He tried desperately to ignore the glimpses of the child Alfred had once been that were slowly fading from the corners of his vision. "We've all done things," he said softly. "Terrible things. Wondrous things." The British man cracked a weak smile. "Terribly, terribly stupid things. All of us."
Alfred gave a silent chuckle, breaking it off before it turned into something more dire. Something more genuine. He reached up to take off his glasses, laying them firmly on the bar top, and looked hesitantly down at the other nation. Arthur met the other man's gaze, scrutinizing the cerulean eyes. Without the glasses to shield him, Alfred looked worn, weary from the years of fighting. He looked shaken, battered by the harsh realities he'd forced upon himself. Looked a thousand years older than he was, bereft of all traces of his former childishness.
He looked like a broken man.
Arthur ignored the slightly hysterical voice in his head telling him to stop. Telling him to let the other nation collect himself. To let things stay right where they were, and to just let it be, let him be. He pressed that voice into a muted corner of his mind, and reached up with steady arms to draw the younger man close. Alfred collapsed into the embrace, grabbing onto Arthur like a drowning man, his broad, proud shoulders trembling at the other man's touch. Arthur felt himself unconsciously tighten his grip around Alfred's waist, felt one of his hands reach upwards, unbidden, to smooth down the tangled flaxen strands of the other man's hair.
The jukebox played on, concealing in a harsh blanket of sound the softly whispered words of understanding that fell to rest on the grimy bar floor.
So we ended in kind of a different place than we started, huh. Totally unintentional. I had no idea Alfred was such an angst kitty.
Next time: A Manly Friendship! Incest Jokes! Fond Reminiscing of the Austrian Wars!