Disclaimer: Don't own this.
He can smell it, taste it on his tongue.
He hears the creak of old wood, of a deck floor. The strain of thick ropes and a towering mast.
He knows exactly where he is without opening his eyes.
It's been a long time since he was called that, hasn't it?
No. What is he thinking?
"Ay, Mister Cooper?"
"Are you well? You seem…out of sorts."
He opens his eyes. Before him spans the sea, calm and blue, endless.
"I'm quite well, Mister Cooper. Have you finished taking inventory?"
"Ay sir. A list has been left in your quarters."
"Very well. As you were."
He eyes haven't left the ocean. After all these years, he cannot find any lack of amazement at its grandness, its freedom. On the sea, he is freer than ever he was at home, with its constant quarreling of monarchs, and the cries of the people. No man- not nation or human- can touch him out here. This is where he belongs.
He is unsure of how long he stands at the bow of the ship- time seems to pass strangely- but he doesn't much mind. The weather is fair, the seas are calm and there are no reports of Spain nor France or anyone else that would darken his day.
From far away, he can hear someone calling his name.
He ignores it. No one is allowed to call him by name on his ship.
The voice is growing panicked now. Still, he ignores them. His crew can see him perfectly from where he is.
The voice is so irritatingly familiar. He is beginning to notice an ache in his shoulder- what happened there?"
"Arthur, please, answer me!"
The voice breaks and the ache in his shoulder intensifies into a shooting pain. It spreads through his body until every nerve is screaming in pain, until he is screaming.
Alfred's voice is equal parts worried and relieved. Arthur opens his eyes.
Mud, rain, death, trenches- war. He moans.
"I thought I'd lost you."
Alfred is cradling him, the cocky country kneeling in the mud as he uses his back to attempt to shelter his father-nation from the elements. Rain and tears drip down his face.
"I'm so glad you're alive."
Arthur has a thousand replies on his tongue- 'Let me go back' , 'You're an idiot' , 'About time you got here' , 'Painkillers. Now.' – just to name a few, but all that comes out is a wheezy sob.
He can feel the bombs going off, his soldiers- his boys- dying for such a stupid war. He feels the disease, despair, frostbite, starvation, all of it. He's a hand span away from completely breaking- like Ivan.
"Arthur, you still with me?"
He takes a deep and shuddering breath, and uses all his strength to nod.
"G-good. We're gonna get you somewhere safe, okay? I…I'll take care of you, alright? Stay with me, Arthur…stay with me."
But he wants the sea! He wants his freedom, and warm salty air. He wants out of this hellhole.
The have to wait until dawn, when they can move, but soaked and cold and muddy as he is, Alfred doesn't move. A scared-looking medic comes over sometimes during the night, and offers a syringe of morphine to Arthur. Alfred gives the okay and Arthur slides into quasi-consciousness.
War and piracy mingle in Arthur's mind, and he's on his ship again. Only this time it's in the middle of a hurricane, and he's losing. He can smell fire and blood; hear the cries of both crews as the battle progresses. He wants to help, but his limbs are too heavy and time and space are acting abnormally. At one moment he can see himself in four different places, and he calls out to his other selves, but his voice comes out as a whisper and the don't hear him. He can see the fuzzy outline of Alfred above him, his face grave, and his glasses keep disappearing and reappearing and Arthur no longer knows if it's 1776 or 1918.
When dawn breaks, and the sky clears, the morphine has run its course. His body hurts again, but the dreams are gone. Is mind is less muzzy, and he's not entirely sure if he's glad for that. After all, it means he can more clearly process the horror around him, and the concern on Alfred's face, but at the cost of knowing who his enemies are.
Alfred gets him to a hospital, although they're not entirely sure how to treat him. They give him another shot of morphine, and Arthur has just enough time to remember what too much too often can do before he passes out again.
When he wakes up again, he is in a large, soft bed. Definitely not hospital-grade.
However; the linens aren't his, nor the choice of wallpaper. He is not at home.
"So you're awake again?"
Alfred is sitting at the bedside, looking pale and haggard, but smiling nonetheless. There are deep shadows under his eyes and he looks like he's been ill for sometime.
Alfred's smile falters.
"Yeah. Spanish Influenza."
He smooths Arthur's fringe out of his eyes.
"You had it too. I…I was…"
His former colony blushes slightly.
"I was worried."
And Arthur remembers the reason he didn't return to piracy.
A/N: Please review?