Disclaimer: They're not mine.
Edit: I hate altering fic very much after I post them, because I feel like I've published them and that's that. But a lot of stuff was bothering me about this one, and I really want it to be as perfect as I can make it, so I've made some alterations. *deep breath* So. Even though I almost never did it, I've expanded the ending. Sorry, everyone! Just think of it as an "expanded edition," like the Lord of the Rings DVDs or something. Okay? Okay.
How Heroes Fly
America wasn't sure what he'd been expecting. It wasn't like he hadn't seen England, pretty recently, too; he'd been making regular deliveries of supplies (making sure England was doing okay and all) and had even come over and flown with him a little. But when he got down from his plane and England was standing there, all straight-backed and proud and formal and serious with his arms linked behind his back in military posture, America's heart sort of flip-flopped in his chest and he had to take a deep breath. England was standing there like that waiting for him, after all.
America'd already kept him waiting long enough; he wasn't going to keep him waiting a second longer.
He yanked off his helmet and strode over to England still in his flight gear and stuck out his hand. "Howdy there, England," he said, working hard to make his voice loud and friendly and confident, with nothing of the mixed-up shivering emotion twisting in his chest or stopping up his throat. He grinned, trying to prompt an answering expression, any kind of expression, from England's features, all set in grave, solemn lines. "Allies now, huh?" he said.
England reached out and took his hand, shaking it once, firmly. "Allies," he said, and had America imagined that quick squeeze? Probably. England looked up at America's face, and then his eyes flicked away, back down, too fast for America to be certain if he'd seen England's cheeks actually color up or not. England replaced his hand behind his back.
America laughed, a little uncertainly, at England's subdued response. Wasn't he supposed to be overjoyed to see him? America was showing up to save him, after all! Wasn't this what England had been pushing him to do all along? "Well, he said, feeling more than a little clumsy, unsure of what he should do or say, "here I am. You've got me for real, this time. My boss is going to show up to talk to your boss and work the details of all this out in a couple'a days, but I came ahead. I mean, better get this show on the road, right?"
Part of him had just wanted to see England; he hadn't been looking too good the last time America had seen him. But he was looking all right now—better than all right, with his pale hair a flyaway tousle above the stubborn lines of his face and formal flight jacket and olive drab uniform, his eyes bright and his cheeks reddened by the wind whipping about them. England made that drab uniform look pretty . . . well, pretty awesome, the way it fit snugly over his slim square shoulders down over the compact solidity of his body, and at least he looked a little more energetic, or something, than he had last time. He'd never come to meet America in military uniform before—but then, America'd never worn military uniform to meet him, either, at least not since the last war, anyway. America pulled uncertainly at the folded collar, wondering how he looked. It was brand-new, after all.
England's expression did something that was impossible for America to read; he looked pensive and frustrated and upset and annoyed and maybe a little pleased all at the same time. "Oh yes, now you're impatient to get started," he said, and his voice was just as hard to read as his face.
"Huh?" America said, starting to feel a little angry. "Hey, what's that supposed to mean?"
But England just shrugged and said, "Nothing. Nothing at all." He paused, and America glowered at him, and a moment passed, and then he said, "It's good to see you, America," and damn, if that didn't just turn everything inside America into mush.
"Aw," he said, feeling his own cheeks warm, "s' nothin'. After what that damn Jap did to me—" He smacked his fist into his other hand, fighting back the fury, because this was England, and there'd be time for the anger over that fucking back-stabber later. "We're gonna show 'em, England, just see if we don't!"
"Indeed," England said, and he was back to being shuttered, his face closed, impossible to read. America swallowed, aching a little. Would it be so hard for him to act happy to see America, for once? "Come on, America, I'm to show you to where you're to stay."
"Oh," America said, "hey, let me get out of all this first, yeah?" And he jogged back over to his plane and set about tugging off most of his flight gear. He grabbed his bag, threw it over his shoulder, and hurried back to England's side, running his hand through his own hair to push it back out of his face and tugging his uniform carefully into place (he maybe glanced at England once or twice as he did it, but England didn't seem to notice). "Lead on!" he said, throwing his hand out extravagantly, and England ran his own hand quick over his mouth like he was trying to keep it from smiling by force and looked away, though his lips didn't so much as twitch.
America grinned and felt better about following him. That was more like it, anyway. "So," he said, hurrying after England until he realized that his longer legs were going to put him too far ahead and started measuring his stride carefully to put him right behind England. "What're ya thinking, anyway?"
England just gave him a sideways exasperated look that said, good lord, America, be a bit more specific, won't you, that look so familiar from his colonial days that it made America's throat tighten up, just a little. He swallowed hard, past it.
England looked back to the path in front of them, continuing on without so much as a pause in the brisk pace he'd set for the both of them. America thought he saw him close one hand around his other arm and rub at it uncomfortably, but then he dropped both arms and they were back to their stiff posture at his sides. "I'm thinking," he said, evenly, "that I owe you a great deal of thanks, America."
America felt hot all over, warmth flushing up from his belly to his head. "Naw," he said, and from the warm fluttering pleasure in his stomach knew he was lying. "Really. I was never gonna just leave you to fight 'em, England, and now I'm in it for real, so you don't have to worry 'bout a thing."
England heaved a sigh. "You didn't have to declare war on the entirety of the Axis," he said. "Let alone as immediately as you did. You don't have to be over here, now, helping me the way you've come to do. And I—I deeply appreciate it." It sounded like he'd had to force that out over a throat full of rocks, and his voice got even lower, low and tight and rough. "Allow me to thank you for that much."
"Hey, now," America said, and took the two long steps he needed to put him in front of England, looking down into his face. He put his hands on England's shoulders and squeezed, then pulled him hard, off balance, into his chest for a quick, tight hug. He could smell England—books and tea and tobacco and old-fashioned cologne and oh, God, how could he possibly smell just the same? England stiffened up, his muscles locking beneath America's hands, and America set him back. He could feel his cheeks heat with an embarrassed blush but hoped England wouldn't notice. "You're welcome, you hear?" he said. "Welcome to it all. Of course I came over here for you. We're going to fight together. We're going to get Germany's crazy-ass bastard excuse for a new boss for everything he's done to you. All the fucking awful things he's done. And we're going to get Japan, too. And then everything'll be great."
England closed his eyes, then looked up at America and shook his head quickly, not entirely without affection. His skin looked flushed, too. America looked down to try to catch a glimpse of his eyes, but England turned away too quickly, swallowing, his breath rasping and catching unevenly. "Great, you say," he said, and kept on walking in that crisp quick military stride.
"Well, yeah!" America replied, starting after him. "Heck, yeah! Course it will; I'm here, aren't I?"
England just shook his head again.
But America didn't let that stop him. England had thanked him, after all, had come right out and said it, and that was enough to make anyone's day, surely, so he just kept on at it, asking England questions about the war, all the things he really needed to know now, and England just sort of rolled his eyes, but he answered them. What America really wanted to ask was how England was doing, how he was holding up, but every time he started thinking about asking he'd look at the proud curve of England's jaw and the stubborn, set line of his mouth and his square-held shoulders and the shadows under his eyes and just not be able to get the words out. It was dumb anyway, America thought, to want to ask so damn badly, and a little . . . pathetic; obviously England was doing just fine, and he didn't need the reassurance over something like that, anyway.
England stopped outside of what was honestly a really nice, really big, probably really old house. America looked up and kind of gulped. He'd been expecting England to show him to a cramped military barracks like where he'd stayed when he'd come over here to fly before (he still remembered nights when he'd sprawl out miserably on his bunk, listening to Poland whimpering in his sleep in the bunk above him, and clench his fists with the frustration of it all, of not really being part of it, and bury his face in the pillow to try and catch a whiff of some scent to remind him that he was here with England, flying for him). But that was all over now; he was here now as America, to fly for America, with England, and that made him feel awesome and strong and about a million feet tall.
"Your rooms are in here, with those of some of the other Allies," England said, and shifted uncomfortably, his eyes shying away from America's. He took a deep breath, and then reached forward and swung the gate open. "I'll just—show you to the door, shall I?"
"I—" America wasn't quite certain what he wanted to say, so he cut himself off before who knew what came out of his mouth. "Um. Okay." He wanted to say something more, but he couldn't think of what it was, so he just watched as England unlocked the door and turned to go. "Hey," he said then, because he couldn't just let England walk off, he'd barely talked to him, and—and. And something. "England!"
England turned back. "Yes?" he snapped, and America winced, stung. What was he talking to him like that for? He wasn't doing anything wrong, he was here, finally here, England should be overjoyed, practically fucking thrilled! Right? "What is it now?" England demanded.
America stepped forward and grabbed England's arm, and England went white to the lips and made a strangled gasping noise and tried to wrench away, which turned him even paler. Sweat broke out across his forehead, dotting his temples, and he took in several long breaths through his nose.
America froze, the bottom dropping out of his stomach because he'd just made England make those hurting sounds, and even back when he'd wanted to do that it had made him a little nauseated to know he'd been the cause. It took him a long moment to force his mind into forward movement again and realize that he should let the hell go, and he did, immediately, wrenching his hands away. "England," he started, "what the hell—"
That was when it happened. The siren fractured the air around them, a high throbbing wail that sounded like fear and heartache and the threat of death and made America go cold through and then hot again in an instant as adrenaline began to pump through him. For a moment all he could feel was anger that it had interrupted him then and given England a perfect excuse not to explain himself to America.
England's hand closed on America's wrist like a vise in the next second. "Come on," he bit out and dragged America after him. America dropped his bag and followed, willingly breaking into a run, ashamed that he'd frozen like that, even for a second. The siren pounded at his ears, inside them, making his forehead ache.
Shit, he'd known what'd been happening to England in his head, but he'd only been there with him for what, fifteen minutes? He closed his own hand loosely around England's wrist on an impulse, feeling the warmth of his skin beneath the leather of their gloves, the steady beat of the pulse there, the wiry strength of muscle overlaying surprisingly fine bones, that wrist thinner than he remembered, and he was so glad that wrist was there to hold onto that for a second he couldn't breathe and he didn't care that England was dragging him along like he was some kind of kid.
Of course, a second later he swallowed hard and blinked and he could breathe again and he did mind, kind of a lot, actually. He planted his feet and used the hold he had on England's arm and his momentum to swing England around to face him. "Where are we going?" he demanded.
"A shelter," England gritted out. "You just got here; I'm not going to see that German bastard blow your head off."
Since America felt a lot the same way, only directed toward England, he didn't dispute that, just tugged his arm free and asked, "Where?"
England jerked his head to the left and reached out and grabbed the front pleats of America's uniform to yank him forward again.
"Hey!" America burst out, but England ignored him, and damn, he was strong, how had America forgotten that? Even with whatever was wrong with his arm—but that was the other arm, and when America looked, he was keeping that one tucked close against his body. That made America swallow, hard and painfully. How badly was England—
It was hard to keep up with him now, even with America's longer legs; England was moving so fast—he wasn't giving America a chance to even put his legs to use, because he couldn't get a full step in before England yanked him off balance again. He dragged America down a set of stairs, America stumbling for balance all the way down, and threw the door open. America had to catch at England's shoulders to steady himself, and he heard England suck in his breath.
The siren was still wailing, and the ground convulsed beneath their feet. England grabbed America and pushed him down hard and twisted so that his body was between America and the still open door, his hands clenching in the collar of America's jacket. America stumbled and failed to catch himself and sank to his knees, gritting his teeth in rage. He'd come there to protect England, not the other way around, how dare he—
The ground stopped shaking, though the siren still tore through the air, and he was up on his feet again in an instant. He pulled England close, ran one hand down over his back to check for fresh injuries—none—and then pushed him back and slammed the door shut before he spun back and rounded on England, panting. "What the hell was that about?" he demanded, hearing that his voice was frantic and furious and much too loud and not caring. "What were you thinking?"
England's eyes were closed, and he was very pale, a trembling sheen of sweat shining on his face. As America watched, he opened his eyes—slowly, like it was a struggle—and said, faintly, "America, you prat, you're between me and the door."
"Yeah!" America said. "You damn well better believe I am!" He crossed his arms over his chest and set his feet against the ground, bracing himself for another convulsion of the earth or possibly a rugby tackle, though England looked as if he could barely stand. "What about it?"
England sighed and wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his good arm. "Get out of my way," he said, and fury blazed up hot into America's head and exploded behind his eyes.
"What?" he roared, and stalked forward. "You're going back out there? You were gonna what, drop me off in here and go back out into—into—that?"
"The bombs are falling everywhere; what does it matter where I am?" England burst out, glaring up at him. "Get out of my way; I have to be up there, I have to be helping—"
"You're not going anywhere without me," America growled.
England made a sputtering, incredulous noise. "You're not my nursemaid, America," he said, and tried to push America out of the way, to shove past him.
America barred his way with one arm. "And you're not fucking mine!" he shot back.
England winced; America could see it tremble all through his body, but before America had a chance to respond the ground shuddered again, and this time it knocked England flat off his feet and into America, who lost his balance at England's solid weight smacking flush into his torso and tumbled to the ground. They landed hard, in a tangle of limbs.
England immediately rolled off him, but didn't get much further because he gasped at the movement and folded back in on himself, sinking down against the ground, his eyes rolling back in his head. America struggled back up to his knees, shaking his head to clear it, and crawled to England's side. His own hands were shaking, he noticed, and bit the inside of his lip until the pain cut through the chill filling him at seeing England unmoving and unconscious. He reached down and yanked at England's tie until it came loose, following it with the buttons of his shirt and uniform jacket but trying his hardest not to rip them despite the urgency pounding in his ears and throat, because England would be fucking pissed if he did that. America could feel the compact strength of England's body under his hands, the warmth of him, damp with sweat, how limp and still he felt.
He had England's shirt and jacket half open when England groaned and his eyelids fluttered, but he could already see the tightly wrapped bandages covering most of England's chest. America reached down and touched them, his fingers barely skimming over the cotton and linen--most of them looked new, but they were dark with perspiration. He could see fresh blood seeping through them from a spot high on England's ribcage, just under his heart, and pressed his hand there to try and stem the bleeding, curling his fingers so that he could feel the rapid drumming of England's heart just under his hand.
"A—America?" England whispered, and, oh, God, he sounded fucking confused. He was shivering, America could feel the tremors as they traveled through his body, his creased and his brows knotted as he stared at America as if struggling to make sense of his presence in front of him. His eyes were dark, the pupils dilated, and too wide. "What are you doing here?" Even as out of it as he was he managed to sound vaguely scornful and disbelieving as all hell.
America slid his other arm under England's shoulders to get him up off the ground. "Being a hero," he gritted out. "Now shut up and let me."
England's eyes opened wider and he took a deep breath that sounded like it hitched over rough places in his throat, but he managed to roll into America's arm and then sit up, gasping heavily and holding his chest. America scooted around behind him and pulled his head back against his own shoulder, shoving it down. "Easy," he said. "Just—just take it easy."
England laid his head down for a moment, closed his eyes, and took a few long, slow breaths, his body relaxing against America's. America felt strangely triumphant as England's breath feathered along the collar of his jacket, trapped by the lining so that it warmed slowly with his breathing and America could feel it against his neck, because England was leaning against him, against America's strength.
But England was still pale, horribly pale, like milk, like a ghost, and his eyes looked tired, dark, bruised, bottomless hollows against the off-white pallor of his skin with those shadows under them. America swallowed, realized he didn't know what to do with his hands, and took a deep breath. Come on, he told himself. This is it. He needs you. You can't be useless now; you've gotta show him what you can do, show him how strong you can be.
America took a deep breath and finished with England's shirt and jacket, pulling them off over his arm. England winced, shuddering a little, and raised his head, breathing unevenly.
America caught his breath, looking down at England's arm. It was messy with small, uneven bandages, but he could see plainly the angry pink scars of healing burns, the still-dark bruises and uneven cuts that littered it. "I'm sorry—" he said, roughly. "I'm sorry I—"
"What in God's name . . . do you have to be sorry for, America?" England asked gruffly, sounding a lot more like himself, even though his breath still stumbled and caught. He struggled up, away from America a bit, fell back, and then, slowly, pushed himself upwards again, patting clumsily, vaguely at America's chest as he did, and America's throat felt tight, because England was still trying to comfort him, damn it. "Give me my shirt back, you tosser," England said breathily, "I'm going to need it."
"I'm sorry I didn't come sooner," America whispered, furious that he'd been made to say it and miserable with the feeling of uselessness sweeping through him.
England said, "Oh," a long beat too late to pretend that he didn't care. "Well—" he took a deep breath and sat up straight; America felt like he could see England's spine straighten by inches until it was the perfect upright posture he'd always had once more. "I'm still going to need my shirt back." He reached over and tugged it out of America's hand before America realized what he was trying to do.
America looked up and stared at him, looked at the set determination of his mouth, the lines of pain etched deep into his face, the white line around his lips, his hair really a mess now and going every which way, and said before he thought, "Oh, wow."
England froze in the middle of pulling his shirt back on one-handed and gave America a wary glance. "Wh-what?" he stammered.
"You're just—" America shook his head and looked down, feeling his cheeks flush, and feeling like he'd never admired England more, even though it ached inside him and made his throat hurt and his eyes burn, "you're so goddamn tough."
"Ha!" England let out a rusty bark of laughter, but America thought he sounded pleased, all the same. He looked back up to see England frowning at his shirt, half-on over one shoulder. There was color in his face again, flushing up high over his cheekbones.
"I mean," America said, hurriedly, feeling a wash of embarrassment, defensiveness rising quickly at the look on England's face, because, after all, America was just as awesome, anyway. "It's not like I'm not. I just—I mean, you are—"
"Eh?" England said. "Sorry, didn't hear you. What am I, again?"
America rolled his eyes. "You're as tough as a cockroach," he said, then looked over at England, bandaged and pale and unbroken, and said, "You're a fucking bad ass," and this time watched as the slow color rolled up over England's cheeks. England looked down and fiddled with the edge of his shirt for a few moments, then balled his hand into a fist. He scowled down at his shirt and let out a shaky breath, and America kind of really wanted to hug him in that moment, wrap his arms around him and pull him close, hard, and breathe in his scent and maybe not let go for a long, long time.
"Let me get that," America said instead, and hurried to fit his actions to his words. He looked down at England's arm as he did so, easing it into the sleeve. "What—what happened?" he asked haltingly, and wondered if maybe he shouldn't have asked.
England dipped his head and sighed, and for a moment it sounded thick and watery. "Coventry," he said. "The cathedral is gone. There was another raid this spring, and I—it just isn't healing properly—"
Before America knew what he was doing, he'd pressed a kiss to the soft tousle of England's hair. England jerked, obviously startled, and almost banged his head into America's jaw—he would have, if America hadn't pulled his head back, and quickly. America took a deep breath and picked up England's jacket to drape around him, hearing England's breath catching in his throat. He laid his arm over England's shoulder and listened to England's heart beating and the sound of the air raid siren, feeling the tension in England's muscles under his encircling arm. "Okay," he said. "Come on. Let's do this. Let's show those bastards how heroes fly."
I was thinking this was probably about December 13, 1941. America doesn't waste time. This would put it shortly after Germany and Italy declared war on America, and America declared war right back.
The bombing of Coventry took place throughout most of 1940, but there was a raid in April, 1941.
America is such a fighter pilot in my head.
America's uniform is new to represent the quick build-up of the American armed forces in the years leading up to 1941.
The reference to America flying with England earlier is a reference to the few American pilots that flew for the RAF. Most of them pretended they were Canadian, though there were a couple squadrons of American volunteers.
Um, Kiku? I love you, really. I will write many, many fics about you to make it up to you. Alfred is just mad at you right now. (I swear I was a Japanese Studies major and not like, British history.)