You know... a part of me didn't want to post this. Hell, you know what, a part of me didn't want to write it.
For one thing, it makes me feel kind of like an idiot. Less than a month ago, I was railing away about how much I disliked Hetalia: Axis Powers. While it was an entirely premature opinion (given that I hadn't even watched the thing), a great deal of my initial judgement of it still stands:
I maintain that WWII is an exceedingly peculiar thing to have made a cute, funny manga/anime out of. O.o
(Honestly, when you get right down to it, Hetalia is kind of offensive in a lot of ways. Especially if you're Italian. No matter how cute he is.)
I digress. All I really wanted to say was that I had a tirade of disliking Hetalia which was disrupted by my watching Hetalia and realising that I... actually sort of liked Hetalia. It pains me to admit it. It really does.
Seriously, if this happens with Twilight too, I will just hang myself.
(I doubt it will happen, though. Twilight really blows.)
UKxUS, not USxUK – and not just because I'm British. ;)
Updated just in time for Thanksgiving – because like hell Alfred wouldn't be all over that.
AutumnDynasty and Narroch (since I bet you tripped over yourselves to click on this on becoming aware of its existence): SOD OFF.
"The most significant event of the 20th century will be the fact that the North Americans speak English." – Otto Von Bismarck
It's not the first time he's had to carry him home.
Not that it's an issue – at least concerning physicality or whatever. Alfred F. Jones grew taller and broader than Arthur Kirkland a long time ago. He really shouldn't have to babysit the man who brought him up, but he's too kind to let Arthur stumble home by himself, particularly since it's pretty likely that he'll stumble in front of a car and that would be a pretty embarrassing end for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to come to.
Incidentally, Alfred thinks that Arthur's drinking has gotten worse recently. Maybe not – maybe he just never noticed when he was younger. After all, when he was younger and hanging off Arthur's arm, it wasn't like there was room for Arthur to be hanging off him the way he is now.
Or, well, that's layman terminology. He carried Arthur piggyback down the street and into the house, arms looped under the older man's knees, with Arthur himself slumped against him, half-asleep. He complained about the leather of Alfred's bomber jacket being uncomfortable when he first laid his head against it, but his words became incoherent mutterings and then, finally, he fell silent.
As smashed as he is, he's probably trying to hold onto his dignity the way he always does. Not that there's anything dignified about being carted home by your adopted "little brother" after a gin-and-tonic or six too many. But whatever.
Alfred brings Arthur up to his bedroom and isn't all that gentle about dumping him on the bed; Arthur mutters something else, probably a profanity and probably aimed at him, and Alfred straightens and shrugs and looks down at him sprawled on the bed with his tie loose and shirt collar unbuttoned and blonde hair dishevelled. He's fully-dressed otherwise, which most likely isn't very comfortable – not that that stops him from sighing and shifting on the sheets. Alfred thinks that his eyes are shut but they can't be, because when Alfred pushes up his glasses, the glint of them catches Arthur's attention and he looks up at him properly.
"You're still here?" he asks dully.
Alfred smiles faintly at him.
"We only just got back," he replies mildly. "I carried you, remember?"
"Ah." Arthur nods and averts his gaze back to the ceiling. "Making a fool of myself again, was I? I suppose that's why you're still here – so you can laugh at me." He laughs himself, although it is icy and entirely humourless.
"That's not... I'm not here because..." He finally frowns. "I just wanted to make sure you're okay."
Arthur abruptly half sits up, his green eyes gleaming.
"I don't need you to look after me!" he snaps.
Alfred doesn't respond. He merely meets his gaze, his face – for once – entirely expressionless. He doesn't think he has an answer for that. It's certainly true that Arthur has been around a lot longer (beating up on France and Spain and Holland for centuries like he was afraid bullying other Medieval European superpowers might suddenly go out of fashion) and it's certainly truer that he didn't have Alfred to carry him home back then, but it's difficult to take him seriously when his face is flushed with alcohol and the way he's looking at Alfred is proof that he can actually probably see more than one of Alfred.
Arthur is silent for a long moment, watching the younger man, waiting for him to reply; when he doesn't, all he does is sigh huffily again.
"Sorry," he says in a low voice, averting his gaze. "I'm drunk." He sinks back to the mattress again and looks blankly up at the ceiling.
"I know," Alfred agrees, putting his hands into the pockets of his jacket and sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Shut up. I didn't raise you to talk back to me like that."
Alfred tips his head back to look at him, grinning now.
"I do a lot of things these days that you didn't raise me to do," he says.
"Mm." As if keeping his eyes open is altogether too much effort, Arthur shuts them. "Are you just going to sit there and make a nuisance of yourself?"
"I'll leave if you want me to."
Arthur gives another harsh, unamused laugh.
"I must say, that wasn't the answer I was expecting," he muses. "You'll have to forgive me for expecting your reply to have been far more pedantic." He pauses. "No, I don't mean pedantic. I mean petulant. No..." He frowns, still with his eyes closed. "Obnoxious. That's what I mean."
"You're forgiven," Alfred says, rising again. "After all, there are plenty of things that you did raise me to be..."
"Ah." Arthur smiles now, opening one eye. "So we're not going to be civil anymore?"
"You're the one being obnoxious right now."
"Because I'm pointing out your usual inability to accommodate for the needs of others?" Arthur finally turns his head properly as he sees Alfred heading towards the door. "Oh, don't walk out, you twit. You know I'm drunk."
Alfred pauses, hand on the doorframe, and looks back over his shoulder.
"I've done all I can for you tonight," he replies, his voice uncharacteristically hollow. "Unless I can get something for you—"
"I was joking." Arthur sits up again, rakes his blonde hair out of his eyes and then beckons to Alfred with the same hand. "Come here, you."
Alfred turns to him fully, but still he hesitates. Arthur motions to him with his fingers again, this time more insistently.
"Come here," he repeats. "What are you afraid of?" He laughs a third time, this one more of a strung-out, breathless giggle. "Come now, you're hardly afraid of me. You haven't been afraid of me for a very long time. We both know that."
Alfred sighs defeatedly. He supposes he can't argue with that – and even if Arthur is planning to belt him, his hand-to-eye coordination is shot thanks to four hours down the pub. He'll miss and fall face-first off the bed and Alfred won't be picking him up.
He goes back to the bed and sits down again, closer to Arthur this time, and looks at the other man expectantly.
Arthur does nothing, only looks right back at him.
"What?" Alfred asks uneasily.
"Nothing. I just want to look at you." Arthur gives his head a shake. "It was difficult to see you from over there."
"You can look at me any old time," Alfred points out, beginning to wonder if Arthur is just behaving this way to annoy him and give him a taste of his own medicine. It's true that Alfred is actually beginning to get a little bit irritated. "Hey, if you're acting like this just to—"
"I mean look at you," Arthur interrupts. "Properly."
As if that makes any more sense. Alfred isn't so sure he likes Arthur looking at him like this, as though mentally dissecting him, stripping back layer after layer of American-relations-with-countries-other-than-Britain and Declarations of Independence looking for a weak point to invade all over again. Paranoid? Perhaps.
(But it's not as if Almighty Britannia can exactly deny that collecting colonies is one of his past-times. Right next to collecting Spain's gold. And the last shred of France's pride.)
What a bastard. He only seems unassuming now because he's so drunk he can barely see straight, regarding Alfred curiously as though seeing him properly for the first time.
It's not that he flinches when Arthur takes hold of his chin and makes him tip his head back a little; he's not afraid of him, really he isn't. What's there to be afraid of? Arthur doesn't tower over him the way he used to, doesn't seem nearly so worldly and wise as he once did.
It's just the way he's touching him, looking at him; because Arthur honestly hasn't paid this much attention to Alfred in a long time. He bickers with him on a reflex; he bosses him around a reflex; he corrects him on a reflex. He takes it for granted that America is loud and his ally and there whether he looks at him or not.
Because I'm nothing to do with you anymore, right?
"What?" Arthur suddenly says, grinning at him.
Alfred blinks, jarred back into reality.
"You looked like you were deep in thought." Arthur is still smirking. "I haven't seen that look on your face in a long time."
Alfred opens his mouth to retort, since it seems very much like the 'I'll-be-civil-if-you'll-be-civil' ceasefire has folded again, but he stops when Arthur speaks again, his tone changing, growing softer, more interested.
"You've changed a lot," the older man muses.
"You just noticed?" Alfred huffs. "I've been taller than you for about three centuries."
"It hasn't been that long," Arthur snaps, "and yes, I had noticed. I noticed a long time ago, thankyou very much." He lets go of Alfred's chin. "Honestly, I don't know why I bother. You always misunderstand everything I say even though I went to such great pains to teach you my language. I wish I hadn't. You should have made up your own." He suddenly rocks forward further still, lurching dangerously close to Alfred, their mouths so close than when Arthur speaks again, his words are impressed almost physically against Alfred's lip as though teaching him to speak all over again. "Give it back."
"Give... give what back?" Alfred asks, perplexed; opening his hands to show that he has nothing of Arthur's in them.
"My bloody language, you dimwit," Arthur hisses, and he clumsily thrusts his mouth against Alfred's.
Is it even a kiss? Alfred treats it as one and puts his hands on Arthur's shoulders, partly to steady him, the material of his uniform jacket rough and thick under his fingers and feeling very much like his own. And Arthur? Is he kissing Alfred or is he actually making some misguided attempt to take back English from America with the same tongue that gave it all those years ago? He has one hand fisted in Alfred's leather bomber jacket and the other in his hair, the shade of blonde really quite similar to his own.
He tastes like everything he drank.
Arthur breaks the kiss just as abruptly and leans back with another breathless laugh.
"I got it back," he says triumphantly. "Now I don't have to listen to your voice anymore!"
Alfred merely laughs himself and ducks forward, stealing another quick kiss before Arthur can retreat too far.
"Sorry," he says, smiling. "I need my voice. How else will I annoy you?"
Arthur appears dumbstruck for a moment; before giving a sigh and pulling himself out of Alfred's grasp completely and collapsing back to the bed.
"Take it, then," he mutters blackly. "See if I care. France tainted it anyway."
"English!" Arthur glares up at him. "Not everything revolves around you, idiot."
"You did," Alfred replies, leaning over him, hands going to either side of the smaller man's shoulders. "Once."
"That was a long... and then you..." Arthur looks away angrily. "Why are you even bringing that up, anyway?"
"I want to know... if you still see me as a child."
"I can see you're not a child."
"That's not the same thing." Alfred frowns; then reaches up to hitch his glasses back in place again. "I understand that for you, the amount of time I've been around is nothing. You haven't aged since then, it seems, but I..." He grows frustrated on seeing Arthur's blank look. "God damn it, I grew up, okay?! Maybe not how you'd have liked, but I—"
"Oh, do shut up," Arthur interrupts impatiently. "I'm hardly treating you like a child now, am I? Granted, I'm not sober, but I have been aware for some time that you are no longer that little boy I raised. I'd honestly have to be blind not to have noticed, the way you throw yourself about and don't listen to a word I say."
"Well, I just want you to know," Alfred presses, "that I'm not your little brother. I'm not your colony. But I'm also sure as hell not your enemy. I'm your friend and your ally." He sticks out his tongue. "So there."
Arthur merely gives a small groan of disgust.
"You used to be cute," he says quietly, his voice not within a little irony. "What happened to you, eh?"
"I'm still cute," Alfred says with a grin.
"You bloody well aren't." As though suddenly becoming aware of the fact that Alfred is still leaning over him, all but pinning him to the mattress, Arthur glances up at the younger man once more, his jade eyes narrowed. "What are you planning? Going to take advantage of me?"
"Oh, I'd be much too afraid to," Alfred says teasingly.
"Good," Arthur retorts, his own tone a lot less laced with a teasing tone. "Nobody conquers me. Just you remember that."
"Once." Arthur flushes, glaring at him. "He hasn't since 1066."
"Once." Arthur kicks savagely at Alfred, missing him by a mile. "You shut up." He gives another angry sigh. "I should have let France have you."
"You don't mean that," Alfred laughs. It's difficult to take formidable Great Britain seriously when he's like this. Somehow, whilst sober, he manages to be imposing despite being a lot smaller than all of the other Allies, but stroppy and smashed and he's suddenly hilarious. "If only because it would mean that you'd have lost to France that time too."
"My existence revolves around fighting with France about as much as it revolves around you," Arthur retorts. "Which is not a lot, by the way."
Arthur kicks at him again, although less aggressively this time.
"If you're just going to insult me, you can go away," he says coolly.
"Can I stay if I don't insult you anymore?"
"Why do you even want to stay with me, Mr Independence?"
"Oh, now you're insulting me?"
"That wasn't an insult, you idiot." Arthur rolls his eyes and nestles back into the bed sheets, trying to get more comfortable. "Honestly, English really is wasted on you..."
"That's not true," Alfred argues mildly. "It means I can understand you."
Arthur gives yet another sigh.
"You're missing the... what I just said was meant to be..." He throws one arm across his face, shielding his eyes with the crook of his elbow. "Oh, just forget it, okay?"
Alfred, still leaning over him, is quiet for a moment.
"Hey," he says at length. "I didn't mean to make you mad."
Arthur makes no reply for a very long time, perhaps hoping that Alfred will start to feel awkward and get off him. No such luck. Even if there really is no reason for them to be having what is, all in all, a pretty normal conversation in this kind of position, Alfred isn't moving until he gets a response, even if it's only another attempt to kick him off.
(Incidentally, Alfred is glad he keeps missing – those boots are heavy and being kicked by them would probably hurt like hell.)
"You can look at me if you want," Arthur suddenly says, his voice low and abrupt. "I don't care."
Alfred blinks, taken aback.
"I... sorry, what?"
"You heard what I said." Arthur lifts his arm just enough to glare icily at Alfred from beneath the cave of it. "I admit I was bullying you earlier – not that you even realised. You can look at me too, if you want. Or don't. Whichever is fine."
His arm drops back over his face. Alfred still really has no idea what the hell he means but thinks... that it sounds very much like Arthur is giving him permission to touch him. He'd never say it if he was sober. It's probably because Alfred is a lot taller than him these days, but he doesn't like it when the younger man drapes himself over him or slings an arm around his neck.
Finally Alfred takes his weight off his hands, sitting back; he hesitates, watching for Arthur's reaction (of which there is none), then kneels on the bed between the older man's legs.
Alfred reaches towards him with hands not so much confident as they are determined, even a little indignant; Arthur said he was allowed to look at him so he thinks he might as well push that invitation as far as he can, given that Arthur will probably never indulge him like this ever again.
(And he thinks that he is indulging him. He's starting to wonder if Arthur really is quite as drunk as he's acting. Usually when he's completely off his face, he rants, sometimes he throws up, and then he falls asleep. He doesn't lie still and practically tell Alfred to molest him.)
Alfred goes to Arthur's belt and pauses once more (to give Arthur a chance to retaliate, perhaps) before unclasping the strap running across his chest from it, pushing it out of the way. He can unbutton Arthur's jacket now, if he wants. If Arthur wants.
Does Arthur even know what he wants? He lies motionless, doesn't react to either encourage or rebuke; but Alfred sees him bite at his bottom lip for a brief moment, his eyes still hidden. He hesitates again as his fingers go to the first of the buttons, thinks that Arthur might be trying not to flinch in anticipation, and finally draws back—
"Don't be such a fucking coward!" Arthur snaps at him, lifting his arm again to meet his gaze. Those green eyes are hard and furious and hazed with what is probably alcohol but maybe not. "This is what you want, isn't it?"
Alfred stares at him, taken very much aback by that sudden outburst; so much that he doesn't even realise that Arthur called him a coward for a moment or two. When he finally trips back over each individual word – somehow punctuated further still by the incensed, flushed expression on Arthur's face – he scowls, beginning to get properly pissed off by the older man's behaviour.
"I'm not a coward," he says in a low voice, taking hold of Arthur's tie as though threatening to strangle him with it.
Arthur merely laughs, letting his arm fall back to the mattress at long last.
"Oh, that's right," he replies, voice saturated with sarcasm. "Because you're the hero, right? How could I forget?"
"Mm." Alfred gives a tug on the tie, pulling Arthur off the bed just a little – just his shoulders, just enough to show him that he's not playing. "You must be getting senile, old man."
"No, you shut up."
It's a tired, childish, worn-out retort; but Alfred doesn't give Arthur a chance to mock it as such, grabbing hold of his shoulders and leaning down to smash their mouths together again, jarring British English into silence with American English – or at least the tongue that speaks the former with the one that speaks the latter.
Arthur clutches at him – maybe this was what he wanted all along, devious little tactical genius that he is – and slides his hands up Alfred's back, leather cool and resistant beneath his hands. Alfred feels his fingers tracing the shapes of the five and the zero even through the three layers he's wearing himself – Arthur's touch is gentle and curious, as though unfamiliar with the feel of the numbers, trying to picture what they might look like whilst cutting his sight completely out of the equation.
Arthur does shut up after Alfred draws back and lays him back to the sheets; he also looks up at him, holding his gaze, watching his every move. His mouth is at that dangerous place where it looks like he might break into a smirk or a scowl at any second, but at least it's shut.
Alfred doesn't hesitate any longer, unbuttoning Arthur's green jacket quickly and efficiently, undoing the belt at the waist of it and laying the whole thing open. It's not the only thing he has to contend with – there's a waistcoat and then there's the shirt after that, and there's also the tie and what looks like, hidden beneath the waistcoat, might be braces—
"So it was just a joke," Alfred says cheerfully, starting on the waistcoat. "You thought you'd put my attention span to the test and see how many of your layers I could get off before I saw something shiny."
Perhaps Arthur is surprised by the fact that Alfred's idea of humour – in this instance – is to put himself down, but after a moment he actually smiles.
"Something like that," he mutters.
"Too bad," Alfred goes on gleefully. "You're far more interesting than whatever's going on outside the window."
"That's because it's night-time, idiot. There's nothing going on out there."
"Good. I don't want to be distracted." Alfred catches Arthur's bewildered expression and grins at him. "What, you're telling me that you didn't expect me to take your offer seriously?"
"Oh, I never know what to expect from you," Arthur sighs. He lets his eyes slide closed once more. "I never know what you're going to do next – I only know that it will probably be loud and obnoxious."
Alfred shrugs good-naturedly, undoing the knot of Arthur's tie and slipping it out from beneath his collar. He uses the fact that Arthur is no longer looking at him to his advantage, dropping the tie over the side of the bed—
"You just threw my tie on the floor, didn't you?" Arthur says irritably, eyes still shut.
"Yeah," Alfred admits, "but never mind that. Do you blame me for being impatient?"
It was meant as an odd sort of compliment, but all Arthur does is snort and mutter something about not having raised Alfred to be impatient (which Alfred thinks is a little rich coming from someone who often resorts to trying to put curses on people when he thinks things aren't going to his liking fast enough).
Why is he impatient? He fought to be free of him, and yet... he knows, for all their differences, for all his newer, brighter ideals, his too-friendly way of butting in where he's not wanted (while Arthur, centuries and centuries older, perhaps tired of all this by now, sits back and offers only snide observations regarding Alfred's actions), they are fundamentally as identical as they were back then. Arthur hasn't changed at all – he's just short a colony or two.
Did you think you were God, making me in your image?
But he's not really in his image. Not exactly. Alfred had forgotten and is glad of the reminder when he finally opens Arthur's shirt. He has his own bloody history and maybe one day he'll catch up, but for now...
America doesn't have this many scars.
This is a map of Old England, blotched and annotated and corrected. Every keepsake of every battle, every proof of every loss or victory, is etched upon his skin; every last line of his history written into him, that same serving as soil and tome, nourished by and written in both his own blood and that of others. Alfred has seen his back before, years ago, and knows that it is much the same – most likely bearing an even larger legacy than before. It's true that Arthur starts wars just as often as he finishes them, so perhaps it's not pity that Alfred feels for him now as his fingers run over the oldest and most familiar scars (as though to assure Arthur that it's okay, he knew they were there, he's always known that they were there and that even if he hadn't, America would never be the first to judge him).
One from Rome. Several from France and several more from Holland; Spain, Austria, Turkey, China. There's a newer one from Germany close to a very, very old one shaped sort of like a rose (which he's seen Arthur touch before and murmur something that sounds like "Bosworth") and then there's the one he once came back with when Alfred was still a child, long and deep and straight across his middle as though he'd been torn in half.
(Alfred has one like it these days. He's had it since 1861.)
The one Alfred gave him is on his back. Alfred is glad. He doesn't want to see it.
Alfred bears no scar from Arthur. Oh, Arthur fought him at first, the way he fights everyone who puts up the tiniest bit of resistance against his domineering, bullying ways – but when it came right down to it, when he had Alfred at the mercy of his bayonet that day in the mud and the rain, he couldn't do it. He couldn't hurt him.
To this day, Alfred thinks that Arthur considers that to have been a moment of weakness, but he's not so sure he agrees. He thinks, really, that it might have actually been compassion – something just as rare, perhaps.
He kisses as many of the scars as Arthur will allow him to (for it seems that there are some that the older man doesn't want him to touch, like that rose-shaped one – because they're too old, from too long ago, from a time when Arthur was the same as ever but Alfred didn't even exist. Perhaps he thinks that there are things that America can't forgive or heal because he wasn't there and therefore he doesn't have the right to try. He wasn't there to carry him home—).
Arthur doesn't say anything. He lies as still as ever, green eyes on the ceiling, as Alfred relearns English history – with his mouth, as before, but becoming better acquainted with it now that he's using his tongue for things other than rhyming off each of Arthur's stale dates. God, the man's been in so many wars that Alfred honestly can't keep track of them, and he wonders if even Arthur can – or, at least, if he has the patience to count each of his scars.
Firmly shoved away from the rose-shaped scar a second time, Alfred finally raises his head, pushing himself level with Arthur; who looks up at him for a long, quiet moment before finally reaching towards Alfred's face and taking hold of the frames of his glasses.
"You didn't always need these," he says bluntly. "Not before... you broke away from me."
"That's because I need to see things for myself now," Alfred replies. "When you left me alone, all I had was myself. That makes someone incredibly short-sighted."
Arthur gives a thoughtful nod – as though he finds this to be a particularly interesting answer, if only because Alfred just admitted that his perception regarding anything un-American is exceedingly narrow – but that doesn't stop him from removing Alfred's glasses a moment later. He gives no explanation for why, but he carefully folds them and puts them on the bedside table as Alfred blinks and shakes his head and tries to get used to suddenly not having the advantage of them.
"You won't learn anything else about me with them," Arthur says, glancing back at him; and, again, it's not an explanation, really more like an excuse—
But, well, if Arthur is handing him an excuse on a platter, then that's just fine.
Alfred kisses him again, pressing his full weight down against him; Arthur doesn't really fight him, Alfred would know about it if he did because Arthur is a lot stronger than he looks, but all the older man does is loop his arms around Alfred's neck, possibly attempting to start leading the dance. Alfred crushes closer to him still, opening his mouth, giving Arthur the opportunity to steal back every last word of his damnable language, if that's what he wants...
However, Arthur is the one whose voice fails him when they break, leaning his head back as if lost for breath despite the fact that the even movement of his chest proves that he's actually not short of it at all; the scars stretch and twist with every rise and fall of his ribcage and Alfred can't help himself, trying to capture his mouth again. Arthur turns his head sharply aside, evading him, his blonde hair sliding haphazardly across his face with the abruptness of the motion, and Alfred presses his mouth to his throat instead. Arthur seizes up with a choking sound, turning his head further to fully expose his neck to Alfred, who smiles around the kiss he landed in and moves higher, seeking the flutter of Arthur's jugular with his lips.
He finds it; tastes it through his skin. This is the Thames, dirty and age-old, coursing through him as long as he exists. The twists and turns of it are visible at his pale wrists when his sleeves are rolled up. Alfred remembers that, even if he can't see it now – he remembers once taking Arthur's wrist and tracing the blue lines of that river up to the crook of his elbow, wondering why his own weren't so prominent.
("They aren't awash with filth yet. Give them time.")
It was a subtle warning. Never drink of me, America; I've been corrupt and poison for a long time. But Alfred isn't so pure as all that anymore, either.
He has no intention of making him bleed, but Alfred sinks his teeth into Arthur's throat – just enough to let him know that he is being devoured. He thinks he hears Arthur hiss something like "...No!" and he certainly feels him thrash; he ignores him, swipes his tongue over the pulse in his neck and bruises his skin with his mouth as though he is drinking in defiance of Arthur's self-deprecating warning. Arthur twists madly, his hands tearing at Alfred's bomber jacket, clawing at the '50' stitched onto it as though trying to pick every last thread undone with his nails.
"God damn you...!" Arthur gasps.
Alfred laughs (not understanding); he runs his hands down over Arthur's heaving chest, the slight bumps of scars like pebbles in his path, and reaches the belt of his trousers, beginning to blindly undo it—
"Don't you fucking dare!" Arthur explodes, grabbing Alfred by the throat.
With that same strength Alfred was mindful of before (the one he doesn't look like he possesses), Arthur suddenly sits up, hands still close and tight around Alfred's neck, pushing and pushing at him; Alfred is far too stunned to even react, just staring at Arthur as the smaller man slams him onto his back, completely reversing their positions.
There is a long, tense moment during which they both pant, gazes locked; Alfred's shocked, Arthur's angry and indignant. Still Arthur's hands, rough from holding swords and guns for too many centuries, are encircled about Alfred's neck, and though he doesn't tighten his hold, the mere suggestion of his grasp is enough to cease any struggling that Alfred might consider before he even considers it.
"Nobody conquers me," Arthur hisses at him. "Not even you. Especially not you. I told you to remember that."
There is so much venom in his voice that all Alfred can think is that Arthur is severely overreacting; ah, but then he realises that he almost forgot that Arthur is still pretty drunk. All things considered, given Arthur's behaviour, Alfred thinks that he would be well within his rights to get pissed off and he almost does, but then he looks at Arthur again and decides – wisely – that that actually might not be the best course of action.
He doesn't quite have it in him to laugh it off, either; instead he merely sighs and looks away.
"Aren't you getting a bit old for this kind of thing?" he mutters.
Arthur raises his hand and Alfred deliberately looks back at him, for some reason thinking that Arthur won't actually hit him. He's wrong and Arthur does, open palm to his cheek. It hurts, but the pain is superficial and fleeting. Arthur didn't really mean to hurt him. He meant to insult him – to shut him up by humiliating him.
And for a long moment, Alfred is speechless, stunned into silence all over again. He's so angry that he almost can't speak. If anyone is good at making him mad, at making him react, it's Arthur Kirkland – it's Britain. He does so hate to be treated like this – like a little kid who needs to be held tightly by the hand at all times – by him of all people.
The satisfied smirk on Arthur's face right now isn't helping. Alfred thinks he'll teach him a lesson of his own and suddenly bucks violently, trying to pitch Arthur off; but it's not that easy, of course. It never is. If Arthur was so easy to dislodge once he's decided to settle somewhere...
Well. That would make a lot of things very different.
Even inebriated, Arthur keeps his balance, smiling down at Alfred once more in that familiar condescending way. Alfred really loses his rag with him and reaches up to snatch his wrists – Arthur's only response is to suddenly clutch tighter at Alfred's neck, little short of starting to choke him. He looks like he might be about to start laughing.
"Go to hell!" Alfred flings at him, more out of frustration than anything else.
Arthur does laugh then; short, cold but definitely amused.
"You should watch your language," he replies, his voice maddeningly calm and patronising, as though he wasn't the one who started this – as though he doesn't have his hands wrapped around the younger man's neck.
(And as though he never swears.)
"That's nice coming from you," Alfred replies as icily as he can. "You act all prim and proper, as if the slightest mention of uncivilised behaviour offends a gentleman like you, when all you are... you're just a greedy, vicious tyrant—"
"And you're an ungrateful, loud-mouthed dimwit!" Arthur fires back, that insult sounding rather like it was rehearsed – something he's been storing in his head for a while. "Thanks for being World Police without anyone having to ask – it's just what we all needed."
"You're the one who fucking declared war on Germany in the first place!" Alfred snaps indignantly. "If you're going to act like none of this had anything to do with you then don't get mad when someone else takes charge!"
"You call showing up late to every meeting, shoving whoever's talking out of your way and proceeding to imply that everyone should be your backup in whatever half-baked attack formation you've thought up this time taking charge?" Arthur sounds very much like he's actually enjoying this now. "Oh, wait, I forgot – you're the hero, so I suppose that means that you can just do whatever you feel like and to hell with the consequences, someone else will just fix the mess you make—"
"I'm here to help you fix the mess you made! You're the one who keeps starting wars with people!"
"I'm not the one who rebelled," Arthur says, his voice suddenly low, almost expressionless.
Alfred can say nothing to that – because it came out of nowhere, and because it's true. He looks up at Arthur somewhat breathlessly, meeting his gaze; the older man is looking down at him very intently, right into his eyes, but quite literally into his eyes, it seems.
They are blue. They are that deep, pure, endless blue like the sky unfettered; unblemished by clouds, unrestrained by truth and untainted by the red of war. They have always been that colour and Arthur should have known when he first saw them that America would never stay his. His eyes are that same sky in which the eagle soars – the one that he made his symbol. It took him a long time to fight for his freedom, but when he did fight, he won. That's why his eyes have never changed; behind the glasses he now needs because he no longer has Britain to frame how he sees the world, they are that same blue, a shade maybe called Liberty.
Arthur's own eyes are full of sudden bitterness; Alfred can see it, see the accusation building behind them. They are perfectly green and perfectly, fittingly full of a strange kind of... jealousy. Perhaps he is asking himself, even all these years later, why he couldn't hold on to even America. Of all those that he had conquered and lost – Australia, Hong Kong, Canada – America should have been the one that he was able to keep. Even if he has Alfred's loyalty and friendship now, it's not the same thing.
He is the latest Rome – and is falling as Rome once did.
As before, it is not exactly pity that Alfred feels – for Arthur wouldn't want his pity and even if he did, he doesn't really deserve it for losing things that weren't his to take to begin with – but he understands his sullenness, his silence. Others (including Arthur) may mock that Alfred can't read the atmosphere, can't tell when to speak and when to shut up, can't tell when to get involved and when to mind his own business, but he understands this. He hasn't been around as long as France or Germany or Spain, but he feels that he understands Britain better than they, if only because he was the mould that Arthur poured everything of himself into long ago.
Alfred is his New World. New York. New Hampshire. New England.
(What colour should he call Arthur's eyes? Rotting Empire?)
Still with Arthur's hands as that failed collar around his neck, Alfred raises his own hand up towards the older man's face, running his thumb over his cheek (just under his right eye) as though wiping away tears that aren't there; Arthur lets him for a moment, looking as though he is fighting closing his eyes and letting Alfred comfort him in the midst of his self-inflicted misery. But then – predictably – he snaps his head back, jerking it out of Alfred's reach, and his eyes are just as cold and grim as before.
"When you have quite finished patronising me," he snaps.
"Who's patronising you?" Alfred replies in a low voice. He lets his hand drop back to the mattress. "Do you think I spend my time thinking of ways to insult you? Do you think I hate you?"
He pauses, the thought suddenly occurring to him – because as much as he knows that he annoys and aggravates and antagonises Arthur, he's always considered it to be fun, just a little part of their routine, trading abuse and slap-backs and orders to shut the hell up (if nothing else to simply amuse France and China and Russia, who can't seem to fathom why the only two of them that speak the same language simply can't seem to get along with each other).
"...Do you hate me?" he finishes.
Arthur dips his head, fair hair falling forwards to obscure his face like a pale, ragged curtain; he takes a deep breath, his chest heaving, every scar moving too with the shift of skin like foam on the edges of the tide. The way his shoulders dip, the whole sagging, defeated stance he has adopted – even though he still sits on Alfred, raised high above him – reminds the younger man of that day in the rain again, when Arthur threw down his musket and threw down himself, pride and all, and cried.
Ruthless, cruel and great (Great) Britain could not hurt him as he had hurt others. He could no longer fight with him. Had he let him go because he loved him too much to deny him the freedom he thirsted after any longer?
Even defeated – as he rarely was, that ever-expanding Conqueror-Empire, back then – there had been no hatred that day. In a strange way, Alfred had felt that he had gained Arthur's respect for standing up to him at long last, but there had been no hatred. Even when Alfred had looked down at him and simply said "You used to be so big" (more as an acknowledgement of his own growth, now standing much taller than his mentor), Arthur had not hated him for saying it as he might have hated others.
Arthur radiates that same air now and Alfred realises that it is almost exactly the same situation. It isn't raining and Arthur is drunk and they're in the midst of a completely different war – one in which they're on the same side – but, regardless, it's the same. Arthur loves to hate him because he hates to love him and it's because he revolted, because he rebelled; but that said, Alfred believes that Arthur would in fact truly hate him if he had never stood up to him. A creature of warmongering habit like Arthur Kirkland despises weakness and the fact that Alfred eventually turned his lessons back on him can only mean that he taught him well. America didn't stay his because he loved him enough to give him absolutely everything that he could – including the means to fight back as his equal.
"No," Alfred finally says quietly, making Arthur look up just enough to meet his gaze once more. "You don't hate me, do you?"
"You sound awfully sure of yourself," Arthur mutters savagely – but he notably doesn't protest against Alfred's words.
Alfred smiles up at him.
"I know you don't," he says, "because you won't denounce me. Even if it's only for the sake of pride, because you raised me and gave me everything – your language, your history, your God – you will never denounce me. No matter what I do or say, no matter if I revolt or defy, no matter how goddamn angry I make you, you will always forgive me. You will still love me. You will still call me America."
The expression on Arthur's face following this is hard to read; he appears partly indignant that Alfred would dare to make such assumptions, such accusations, and partly impressed by the way he worded them (and partly furious that Alfred managed to word them so well).
"Think you can win me over by piecing together all of the prettiest words in my language?" he mutters, looking away at the wall.
"You're sure hung up about that tonight," Alfred says, somewhat sulkily – he was impressed by his speech of a moment ago and thought that it might have had a bigger impact on its actual recipient. "My speaking English. I'm sorry if it offends you. I can't help it – you hammered it into me before I started picking up French."
"As if I need reminding," Arthur snaps. "Stop talking about back then. I am perfectly aware that you won. You don't need to keep on bragging about how big and powerful and free you are."
"Oh, and of course I'll always call you America. Do you know why?" Arthur looks back at him, the faintest hint of that demented smile of his back on his face. "Because that's the English name for you. France calls you Amérique and China calls you Mei Guo and Russia simply chews up 'America' and spits it out, but you yourself... pronounce it as I do, spell it as I do and don't look at me blankly whenever I say it as though you're not sure if I'm referring to you or not. Your name for you is my name for you, America. When I gave you my language, I gave you your name, and you can put whatever you like in front of it to try and spruce it up, but you just remember that nothing about the word 'America' is American."
Alfred doesn't reply; irked, but also somewhat weary. There goes that bloodlike attitude again – he really does feel that Arthur is repeatedly trying to declare war on him as well every time he opens his mouth.
"The words I chose to put before 'America'," he says finally, feeling that this is his last-ditch effort to get Arthur down off his grumpy, venomous high horse (or unicorn, maybe), "were 'The United States of'. The formula is just as yours is. Aren't you 'The United Kingdom of'? I liked how you used that word. I wanted to use it too."
"America—" Arthur begins impatiently.
"Of all of us in this war – not just the Allies, but Germany and Italy and Japan, too – you and I are the only two who share alike names. We are the only two who share the same language." Alfred looks up at Arthur, burnt out of arguments aside from resorting to simply sticking out his tongue. "We're more united than anyone else, so why are we fighting?"
Arthur simply sighs, at last derailed, and tips his head back for a moment, finally taking his hands from Alfred's neck, putting them on the younger man's chest instead. Alfred thinks that the answer to his question is really just that Arthur is a particularly bitter, melancholic drunk who picks fights with him even more than usual, but he keeps his mouth shut.
"It's idiotic, isn't it?" Arthur says finally. "...I'm sorry." He glances down at Alfred with a cynical smile. "I'm sorry my presents aren't as good as France's."
Alfred is somewhat amused by this despite the fact that he knows that it is most likely a sarcastic jab at France.
"You mean her?" He gives a little laugh. "I don't think he knew that she would turn green."
"Hn. I suppose it is more likely that he's stupid as opposed to stingy. Not that I've ever given you anything to prove that we're the best chums in the history of the world."
"And English doesn't count?" Alfred takes advantage of Arthur's suddenly far-more-amicable attitude (healed by mutual-insulting-of-France) to put his hands on his waist, going underneath his open jacket and shirt and pressing to warm, bare skin.
"I hardly gave you a choice where that was concerned, I admit," Arthur says. "Just don't forget that I gave you the word 'independence'."
"You mean you forced it on me."
(But merely the word or the thing itself? In the end, did he give him any choice but to fight to be free of him?)
Alfred slips his hands further around Arthur, moving to his back, feeling up the length of his spine until he hits it – near the small of his back is the scar. Arthur flinches. It can't be because it hurts. That scar is over two hundred years old now. Time has long since healed it. But he still flinches, his eyes squeezing closed, when he feels Alfred ghost his fingers over it.
Alfred doesn't withdraw, circling his fingertips over the stretch of scar tissue. It's an odd shape that he can't quite remember every detail of now. He traces every letter of the word 'united' across it with his middle finger – the same one he has flipped at Arthur many a time during the heat and height of their banter at meetings.
Arthur opens his eyes again. The smile on his face is tense, wan – but genuine nonetheless.
"You used to be cute," he says quietly as Alfred's fingers search for the edges of the scar, trying to mentally picture what shape it is – like trying to memorise the shape of a country on a map by touch alone.
"I'm still cute," Alfred grins. "Just grown up. But that's good, right? Because if I wasn't, I couldn't be your ally. I couldn't fight at your side."
"You take that so seriously," Arthur sighs (because he has allied with and fought with a changing roster for hundreds of years – with France, against France, with Spain, against Spain, with Austria, against Austria—)
"Because it is serious." Alfred shoots him his best Hero Smile. "I am your ally, England. Always, always your ally. No matter the enemy, no matter the cause, I will fight with you. Not with you, but with you, you know?"
"Because you're the hero?" Arthur asks sardonically.
"No. Because we're united, dumbass." Alfred takes one of his hands from the scar and raises it towards Arthur, fingers spread. "Promise the same?"
It's a childish gesture, one really too innocent for this kind of promise – the vow to wage war and kill and ruin in defence of one another – and Arthur appears to size it up as such, arching an eyebrow at the sight of Alfred's open hand.
However, finally he relents. He must realise that he has nothing to lose. They haven't fought – really fought – since 1812, anyway. He lifts one of his hands and puts it to Alfred's and notices that Alfred's palm is wider and that his fingers are longer (and remembers when that wasn't the case). He seems surprised when Alfred folds those fingers, sliding them between Arthur's and locking them over his hand – but then he does the same so that their hands seem like they belong to only one person who has them clasped tightly in prayer. Their thumbs are like crossed swords on a coat of arms.
"I promise," Arthur says softly.
Alfred smiles at him. Leaving that one hand clutched with Arthur's, he runs the other one down off the scar and back around him, over his hip and towards his belly, thumb stroking at what he can see of that plain, deadly-straight scar similar to the one he has himself, half-hidden by the belt.
"Hey," he says, raising his blue eyes towards Arthur. He isn't wearing his glasses because Arthur was so kind as to relieve him of them a while back – as though to say that he doesn't need to see the world right now, he should go back to only seeing Britain, as narrow a view as that is – and feels that he needs to be closer, so he pushes himself up on one elbow, leather creaking as he does so.
Not close enough. He sits up properly, forcing Arthur off his abdomen and backwards into his lap – despite the obligatory removal, Arthur is not intimidated by him, merely looking right back at him from his new position with that jaded-jade gaze as Alfred inclines close to him, their mouths almost touching.
"What?" Arthur asks flatly.
Alfred grins again and gives Arthur two of his words back when he kisses him.
Alfred wonders if this might have been a mistake. It's certainly no secret that Arthur is unbelievably greedy in that whole 'Give-him-an-inch-and-he'll-take-a-territory' kind of way and Alfred thinks that maybe he was being too naïve, too indulgent, when he made his offer.
And he was being indulgent, starting to shrug out of his bomber jacket when Arthur kissed him because he thought that Arthur might prefer it that way – to have him naked and new again, stripped of every symbol of United States of America-ism, post-Britain-ism, of defiance and rebelliousness and freedom. He had thought that Arthur would want that, to lay him bare like a clean, fresh page of a history book in the moments before history is made so that he could rewrite what he got wrong the first time. Trusting Arthur like that was a risk, but it was a risk he had been willing to take—
But Arthur had broken the kiss and stopped the jacket from sliding off over his shoulders.
"Keep it on," he had said. "That is... you can keep it on, if you want."
So he had kept it on; the '50' pressed backwards into the bedsheets now. On account of fairness, Arthur opens Alfred's military jacket too, and his shirt, but he's not really very interested in the scars that Alfred has – except maybe that one spread over his shoulder like the clawed hand of one of Arthur's fairytale monsters (new, very new, barely healed). Japan gave it to him in 1941. Alfred was furious, enough to get involved in the first place (even whilst still badly wounded), but now he doesn't talk about it so much.
Arthur kisses it, but his words are grim:
"It won't be the last."
Alfred hums low in his throat in agreement. Maybe he shouldn't be so surprised that Arthur let him keep his jacket on – after all, that new scar has nothing to do with the fact that he was ever a British colony. He is not a part of this war on Arthur's orders. Arthur knows that, too – so he is making no attempt to destroy him.
Arthur must trust him too, then – to not feel the need to crush him underfoot.
Still, trust in practice is slightly more complicated. Again Alfred thinks that this may have been a mistake when Arthur enters him, quick and efficient about it despite still being intoxicated (thought it really does seem like he's fairly sobered up now, at least enough that he will remember this in the morning); Alfred grimaces, hisses, because it kind of hurts and he can't help but begin to regret it already because he's realised that it's like allowing Arthur to spear his flag back into him, to enter him and take him over from the inside out—
"I'm doing what you wanted," Arthur snaps, sounding impatient. "Still don't trust me, eh?" He laughs. "I suppose I can understand that."
"I... I trust you," Alfred replies reproachfully, squinting up at him.
"Liar." Arthur sighs, then smiles faintly at him. "I'll stop if you want, idiot. I'm not that awful."
"I... I want..." Alfred looks at the ceiling for a moment, deciding something. "I want my glasses."
Arthur seems thrown, blinking at him; perhaps slightly disturbed by the perfectly-normal, banal conversation they're having when they're both half undressed and Alfred is on his back with his legs open and Arthur is...
"I can't see you," Alfred insists. "I wear them for a reason, stupid."
"You don't want me to stop?"
"No, I just want my glasses." Alfred pauses. "Please."
"Are you completely oblivious to...? They'll just fog up," Arthur mutters, but that last word (an afterthought) appears to have done the trick and he leans to get them; the whole motion jarring Alfred, bending him almost double and pushing Arthur deeper into him.
Alfred makes a very odd sound, something like a cough and a gasp and yet neither, and Arthur tilts his head in interest as he retrieves the glasses.
"It's nice to hear you use that annoying voice of yours for something other than yelling about how awesome you are," he says scathingly (as though he's the one completely oblivious to what they're doing here). "Here are your glasses," he continues, pressing them into Alfred's limp hand. "I have to say that this is highly irregular—"
"Move already!" Alfred yells at him.
Arthur laughs at him; because when it gets right down to it, he's pretty cruel, that whole gentleman act is just a disguise, it has to be, because if he really was a gentleman he wouldn't push down on Alfred's thighs until his knees hit the mattress, forcing his spine to bend as much as it can, and have at him like that.
It hurts, it really fucking hurts – but it also gets the job done incredibly well (trust Arthur to have ridiculously-precise method for this as much as anything), and it's not like Alfred is actually thinking during all this, but he's dimly aware of the fact that Arthur probably couldn't get himself any deeper into him if he tried. And maybe that's true of more than just this, because every word that Alfred gasps is in English, the language Arthur gave him as a gift all those years ago, probably never realising that it would be flung back at him like this.
One hand tight on the collar of Arthur's open green jacket, Alfred struggles to get his glasses back on one-handed; they slip and he misses and nearly takes his eye out.
"For goodness' sake," Arthur hisses, and he lifts one hand from Alfred's thigh long enough to reach down and push his glasses on properly for him.
Alfred grabs his hand as he opens his eyes behind the smeared glass and smiles up at him, finally able to see him clearly. He'd imagined (vision blurred partly by his own short-sightedness and partly by pleasure) that Arthur had had that crazed pirate grin plastered across his face, but he sees now that he was wrong about that. Arthur only seems surprised, glancing at their hands – caught up together again like they were when Alfred made him promise to always be his ally no matter what happens.
"What?" Arthur asks, his voice surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly) cold considering how intimately close they are; he says it quickly, defensively, as though suddenly self-conscious.
"Nothing," Alfred says, still smiling. "Nothing. It's... it's okay."
"Then shut up." But Arthur is kinder now, relenting the pressure on Alfred's spine; shifting backwards a bit so that Alfred's knees rest at his hips instead of on the mattress.
Alfred hadn't complained, but he does give a sigh of relief as the ache eases; the glasses go to waste as he closes his eyes again, feeling Arthur rock against him rhythmically, listening to the older man's even breathing. He'll never work Arthur out, he decides. He has such hysterical mannerisms, overreacts to every tiny thing (particularly if France is involved), gets all flustered at the slightest insinuation of "indecent behaviour", and yet, during the actual act of "indecent behaviour"...
He's so calm. He barely makes a sound. Alfred, still holding his hand, slips his fingers lower, dipping beneath his cuff to wrap them around his wrist. He finds the Thames again, thrumming steadily beneath history's skin.
(History. His story. Their story. When this finally goes down in the history book, it will say that they were both in this together, that they fought together as Allies and as allies.)
"It will be okay, won't it?" Alfred asks, his voice the softest it has been for a long time; so quiet that maybe Arthur didn't even hear him.
(It's a question, a real question – one that Alfred feels that he can't be satisfied with an answer to that he just made up himself on the spot and polished with his own pride. He hasn't asked a question like that for a long time, either.)
And for a while he thinks that Arthur didn't hear him, for it takes him an age to answer; but finally he feels the older man touch him gently, first his cheek to brush away a strand of blonde hair, and then a moment later at his shoulder, going beneath his three open layers, circling his newest scar with a curiosity borrowed from Alfred himself. It seems like maybe what he wants to say is something like "I'm sorry you were dragged into this" or "I want it to be over before you get hurt again", but he doesn't.
"Yes," he replies at long last. "It'll be alright."
He says nothing else. There is no predictable, sappy declaration of how they'll pull through because they're together, no promise that they'll both make it through, no confident vow that they'll even win; but what he said was enough. Alfred will always feel that he can trust Arthur when it comes to things that really matter, when it comes to telling the truth about things that are really important, and so he is satisfied with those four words. Four is a good number, after all.
Arthur's hand is still on his scar and neither of them say anything, Alfred twisting and grasping at the pillow and—
He feels something wet hit his face. Just a tiny splash, warm, and as he feels another he opens his eyes again and looks up at Arthur.
He is crying. His green eyes are open and he isn't sobbing or shaking; the tears are simply falling as he looks down at Alfred and he seems surprised at himself, glancing at the tears he has spilled onto Alfred's face in something like bewilderment.
Alfred almost laughs in disbelief, managing to bite it back lest Arthur punch him in the face; but he can't help but smile as Arthur snatches his hand back from caressing the scar and fiercely wipes at his eyes on his cuff. Alfred doesn't mind. He can still feel the tears on his cheek and is reminded once more of that day in the rain – the first and last time he saw Arthur Kirkland, Almighty Great Britain, cry. It had been raining and Alfred had felt it on his face then too, turning it up towards the heavens and being baptised; renewed and reborn as free from anyone's influence but his own, for better or worse.
That day he had never dreamed that they were to reunite.
"I apologise," Arthur mutters, wiping Alfred's face dry too. "I don't know what came over me there..."
Maybe he's expecting Alfred to fall back on his usual parrot-cry of "It's because I'm awesome!". Maybe he's praying that he won't. Either way, Alfred still doesn't say anything. He's grinning, though. He can't help it. He doesn't like to see Arthur cry but this time... he's happy. Those tears descended upon him like a new baptism – an all-over-again baptism. It was England's blessing. Old England. New England. Allied-United-Old-New-England.
"Oi," Arthur says finally, seeming unnerved by Alfred's uncharacteristic silence. "Say something."
"Something?" No doubt Arthur will think he's being insolent now, but Alfred tilts his head. "Like what?"
"Such as..." Arthur sighs frustratedly; he rocks his hips forwards and thrusts into Alfred probably just out of spite. "Anything you like. I gave you a whole bloody language, didn't I, you ungrateful brat?"
"A-anything I like...?" Alfred pants, recovering. "You mean... words that I like?"
Arthur opens his mouth, probably to tell him not to be so idiotic and not to take everything he says so damned literally; but then he appears to change his mind, maybe liking that idea.
"Okay," he agrees; he bends to briefly kiss Alfred on the forehead, and then straightens again and once more picks up his gentle pace. "English words you like. Indulge me. Make me feel good. Tell me which of my words are your favourites."
Alfred is still clutching his wrist and he grips tighter as he tries his hardest to think while Arthur is... well, that's not fair, is it? Arthur mocks him for not using his brain as it is, now he's just trying to make him look stupid (or stupider, whatever the case may be)—
"Dollar!" he bursts out, his breathing ragged.
"No." Arthur smacks him on the thigh. "That's not English. That's American."
"Wha...? Oh, come on, you mean old—"
"I... uh, I can't..." It's like a horrible quiz and Alfred can't think, can't separate British and American fast enough. "Um, I like... ah, don't, I can't think...!"
"Don't you like 'independence'?"
"Yeah, but... but I don't want you to hit me again, you sadist...!"
"I'm getting impatient." Arthur smirks and kisses Alfred's thigh, the motion of his tongue slow and torturous, anything but impatient; pleased when Alfred thrashes. "You made me cry. I'll keep on being cruel until you make it up to me – until you make me stop."
"Uh... ah, h-how about July?" Alfred offers weakly.
"No." Arthur's green eyes flash. "I know why you chose that – and besides, it's not even American English. It comes from Julius Caesar. It's Latin."
Alfred gives a whine of frustration (thought maybe it's not just frustration, since it escapes his mouth at the exact moment that Arthur's mouth descends upon his chest); he tries to bend his memory backwards, to fish out some meaningful word that will please Arthur from their earlier conversations and spats...
He looks at their hands – his still gripping tightly around Arthur's wrist in a way that, once upon a time, he would never have been able to. He suddenly knows the word.
He opens his mouth; but Arthur kisses him, maybe stopping him from saying it again, from breaking the rules with redundancy, with repetition, and leaving a different word on his lips instead.
(Maybe Arthur's favourite.)
"Victory," Alfred says; almost feeling like he is obeying Arthur all over again, like he has no choice but to want what Arthur wants and love what Arthur loves because Great Britain made him in his image even if he didn't mean to, language and all.
"Good answer, America."
Alfred stirs, feeling Arthur move next to him. He is in only his underwear now, even his glasses off again, and was sound asleep until Arthur's motions.
It is notable that Arthur himself didn't undress or get under the covers – he merely sprawled himself face down on the sheets, only kicking off his boots, as though the alcohol had finally gotten the better of him again.
However, he is rising now; Alfred turns towards him, propping himself up on one elbow, feeling blindly behind him for his glasses with the other. It must be dawn, or a little past it, the room illuminated with a dull orange-pink-silver light. Alfred finds his glasses and rakes his mussed hair back as he puts them on.
Arthur is standing with his back to him, rubbing at his neck and stretching out his spine, clearly oblivious to the fact that he has woken Alfred. He shrugs off his jacket and waistcoat and shirt, letting them fall to the floor unceremoniously.
At last Alfred can see that scar, bordered by several others. It's not really all that spectacular. Arthur has bigger, more impressive ones elsewhere. Alfred has bigger, more impressive ones. It's kind of indistinct, all things considered. It's not near-pretty like that rose one of Arthur's or blatantly awful like the one on Alfred's shoulder.
Still. It's there. It's a scar. It will always be there.
Arthur bends and picks something up from the floor. A jacket. Another jacket.
He slips Alfred's bomber jacket on and there is nothing tentative or experimental about the way he does it. He puts it on as if it's his. It's big on him, devouring his shape, but Alfred is fascinated by seeing the '50' on his back.
Arthur sinks onto the bed again, sitting with his back still to Alfred; and if he still doesn't know that Alfred isn't asleep anymore, he does a moment later when the younger man kneels up and crawls over to him, settling on the mattress behind him.
"Victory is a good word," he says, slipping his arms around Arthur from behind, feeling him stiffen in surprise, "but it's not the word I was going to say."
He lays his head against Arthur's back and breathes in the scent of his own leather jacket.
"I manipulated you?" Arthur says drolly, relaxing into his hold.
"Or influenced. Maybe."
"You know what I was going to say, though, right? You knew?"
"Of course. You are rather predictable."
Alfred gives another laugh, this one more to himself, not an exhibition of how amusing he finds Arthur's altogether brilliant wit. Or something.
"Okay," he says. "That's what I thought."
"Let us be sure that the supreme fact of the 20th century is that they tread the same path." – Winston Churchill
When it's all over, somehow he's torn between elation and really not wanting to celebrate. Arthur (who knew about it before it happened) will look at him later and understand that the responsibility that Alfred took upon himself in those final days has changed him.
America has never needed to destroy so utterly before in order to be victorious.
Russia (who didn't know about it before it happened) now eyes them both with distrust and what is probably dislike. Perhaps they, with their shared ideology and their shared language and their shared history, have threatened him. It is likely that he will not regard either of them – Alfred in particular – as allies any longer.
But that is something that they will have to deal with later, once the dust has settled and the street parties have stopped.
Alfred hasn't seen Arthur since it happened. He has talked to him on the phone, they have gone over details, Arthur's voice has been filled with something like an unspoken wish that he could carry Alfred home afterwards, but they have not seen one another since the beginning of August.
Alfred pushes through the crowds that scatter the streets; people who have poured out of seemingly nowhere (hiding) to cheer and embrace and share that word – the one Arthur, long used to using it, planted in his brain. The radio blares it and newspapers proclaim it and the streets are awash with it in its purest form; it has become more than a word, it is an embodiment, a wild dance of human emotion, of joy and relief and pride.
Amidst the thriving mass of bodies and the rainfall of shredded ticker-tape and the music and the singing and the rustle of newspapers being thrust from grasp to grasp, Alfred finds him. He is standing with France, arms folded, and he is smiling – but he also looks tired, very, very tired and relieved, and also...
He looks like he is waiting.
Alfred brushes past a sailor manifesting his delight into kissing an unsuspecting nurse, breaking into a half-run, almost tripping over himself as he scrambles over to them. France sees him first, smiles warmly at him; Arthur sees him avert his attention and follows it, turning towards Alfred.
Alfred seizes his wrists, wracked with sudden breathless, humourless laughter; he is overjoyed, he is exhausted, he is so relieved to see him, to see Arthur, to see his original world and know that it is still there for him to return to no matter how independent he is or wants or claims to be.
He has a thousand questions, wants a thousand answers, who, what, where, why why why why why—
But he doesn't use any of the words that Arthur gave him. He lets go of Arthur's wrists just as abruptly and takes his shoulders and kisses him; and even though he was afraid that Arthur might just go rigid in his grip and pretend it has nothing to do with him, he doesn't, taking Alfred's bomber jacket (it smells terrible now: burnt) in his hands and wrenching him down closer, holding onto him tightly.
There is nothing drunk or indulgent or secret about it. They kiss in the middle of the crowd – some people notice, most don't – with that paper parade coming down on them, in front of France, in front of anyone who cares to look and bear witness to their promise of that night. It's part-celebratory and part-consolatory, Arthur saying that it's alright, it will be alright, he did what he had to and that's all there is to it without using his voice; his hands catch Alfred's tears, hot and bitter and angry, and they stay on his face after they breathlessly break, having moved from the bomber jacket when he felt Alfred begin to cry.
"Isn't it a good word?" Arthur says, pressing their foreheads together, forcing Alfred to bend so that they're at the same level. "Don't you like it?"
"Victory?" Alfred asks, meeting Arthur's jade eyes over the frames of his glasses.
Arthur shakes his head, their fringes tangling together, gold with gold.
"No," he says, and he runs his thumb over Alfred's mouth as though to give back the word he took from it that night. "United."
"The great lesson of the 20th century is that whenever the American and British peoples stand together, they always win." – Margaret Thatcher
Wow, this ended up SO much longer and wangstier than I intended... But hey, this thing is set in World-War-Freaking-Two, you know? O.o
How actual USA-UK relations go (at present):
UK: OMG AMERICA! You're going to war with Afghanistan/Iraq/insert-Middle-Eastern-country-here?! CAN I COME?!
USA: Sure, that's kewl, as long as I can have Simon Cowell for the half a year he's not making a quick buck on The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent.
(So they shake on it, there is war with insert-Middle-Eastern-country-here, the UK sees that this isn't going anywhere and pulls out first and says it had nothing to do with it anyway, it was all America, man; and not only do we (the British) have to sit through The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent, we also have to sit through American Idol and America's Got Talent. And there's never any yaoi.)
That said, I have escaped The X Factor hype this year, due to my being in America at the moment (which totally wasn't my reason for England being in America, kakaka). Year abroad for degree. Fun times. Oh, and it turns out that there really is a Starbucks on every corner over here.
On my mentioning of Holland: For the sake of historical accuracy, since Britain fought no less than FOUR FUCKING WARS with Holland between 1650-1790. However, it has come to my attention that there actually IS no personification of Holland/the Netherlands in Hetalia! This surprises me immensely. There's an Estonia, a Latvia, a Liechtenstein – countries I bet a lot of people didn't even know existed until they saw Hetalia – and a Sealand (which isn't even a recognised word on Microsoft Word in UK English, which is kind of telling, ne?), and no Holland/Netherlands? Lol, srsly gaiz. O.o
(Eh, I might be wrong, though. I don't pretend to be an expert on this fandom. I'm just riding the bandwagon for free for a while.)
Also... it's not that I'm defending it, exactly, but I've noticed that UKxUS is, while not unheard of, rare. USxUK seems to be the norm. Why do I think that this is: a.) Because Alfred is bigger than Arthur? and b.) Because Arthur has that kind of bossy, irritable personality that makes him an entertaining uke, mostly because he's so indignant about the whole thing?
Uh, so, I'm not attacking the whole USxUK thing – I can see why people do it. It's perfectly logical in a lot of ways. However... with this, I was trying to take it more from the perspective of the characters. Arthur raised Alfred and while he might only be yea-high compared to him now (and while Alfred might certainly try it on), I don't think he would let Alfred dominate him.
Or, I dunno, maybe he would. YMMV. That was just the impression I got.
(Either way, there is a "Special Relationship" between the USA and the UK in real life. Like, seriously, that is the proper, official name. Wiki it.)
Lastly... this was a kind of writing experiment on my part to see if I could cut down on the amount of times I have characters calling other characters by their names in speech. People actually rarely call others by their names when they are talking to them, and I guess here I really wanted it for dramatic effect since I mostly called them Alfred/Arthur in the narrative but had them call each other their country names when addressing each other by name... I doubt anyone even noticed, but the final tally is Arthur calling Alfred 'America' three times and Alfred calling Arthur 'England" just once! (FYI, our country is called Britain, not England, which is only a part of it – I relented and had Alfred call him 'England' when he actually addressed him by name because that seems to be the norm in this fandom, but I guess I'm just splitting hairs now, anyway...)
Well, whatever. I hope you enjoyed my offering. I say I didn't want to write this but I did really. I just didn't want to admit to having written it. It was most likely just a one-off thing and I probably won't be back, but... I don't like to make promises like that, kyah ha ha.
P.S: Oh, my degree? English Literature and American Studies Joint Honours. My degree practically is BritainxAmerica.
(GAH. Look at that AN. I am so sorry...)