This was written a looong time ago for the kink meme request about Arthur becoming the 51st state. It was on my lj but I thought I'd repost it here. Alfred's side will be up soon.
Here comes the candle
"Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St Clemens
You owe me five farthings say the bells of St Martins."
Sunlight was a strange thing. The pale grey light washed over the now empty room, which had once been Arthur's living room, darkening the shadows on the walls, breathing pathetic warmth that chilled him to the bone.
His back curled against the wall, head tilting against the double-glazed windows so that his forehead felt the frosty glass burning into his skin. His reflection breathed out wisps of ghosts, obscuring him from view until he wiped the window panes with a finger. Always a lethargic sense of unease prompted him to rub away the fogging windows until he could see himself again.
He had not disappeared yet, had he? If he did not check often perhaps his face would melt off like cake-icing in the summer sun, like the painted smiles on clowns melting into frowns.
He pushed his leg up onto the window seat and tapped his fingers against his kneecap, humming 'Oranges and Lemons' to pave over the voices on the radio and the white noise that fills the gaping room with an intermittent buzz.
"When will you pay me? say the bells of Old Bailey
When I am rich say the bells of Shoreditch."
"Unlike fellow nations, unable to recover from the economic downturn, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has announced not a union, but a merger with the United States of America," the radio droned with news that Arthur has known for a long time. There was nothing more depressing than old news.
He turned the dial, tuning in to another station and heard the same thing; the same story told with a different spin.
"A shock that has come to everyone but to help their long-term allies in this crisis the United States has offered to pay Britain's national debt in return for - "
"The US government has announced that Britain will become the 51st state of America!"
Arthur smiled condescendingly at the radio. Little did the poor creature know that the words it was spewing from its dusty speaker would be a bombshell dropped on the heads of the unsuspecting public.
If the radio had a mouth it would have smiled back. Because they were the same. Both Arthur and the radio were just stupid things that have no choice but to do as they are told.
He turned the station; more news.
"Surprisingly, ex-Brits have been told that they will be issued a British-American passport. The National healthcare, transport and education system will also remain untouched but the Pound, the government and, of course, the monarchy will all have to go."
His poor Queen. What would she do when they repossess her Corgis? They were the only living things in the world to still love her since her children had failed in that department. Would they chase the ravens from the castle and watch it crumble? At least he was not like Francis. At least he was not taking their heads as well.
Arthur turned to the music stations but it was no good; they had switched to the news as well. He should have just turned off the radio, better yet, smashed it, but he was too masochistic for that. The 1970s have given him a taste for pain.
"There it is. This new flag will go up tomorrow at midnight. You can see the stars and stripes as usual and, in the middle of the blue, the crowning star, the 51st state of America. Although whether this six-point star will be one of glory or shame remains to be seen, nevertheless we must welcome the 51st state of - "
Why was it everywhere?
"The 51st state of America!"
" – Will become the 51st state of America. God bless America!"
"Announced.....the new 51st state of America."
The street vendors were already selling the flags. Or anti-flags. Depending on which side of the fence you fell.
"I think it's a disgrace!" A man with a thick Northern accent was lecturing the mic. "We're not America, we're British!"
Ah, Arthur thought, a royalist, wasn't that what they were calling them now? Though all he had to do was turn the station to a Liberal and he knew he would hear the exact opposite.
"This can only be a good thing," a young woman was explaining on the other side, "and once we see the improvements American money will bring, the objections will die."
The bell to the front door rung profusely. Jolted out of his reverie, Arthur sprung up to answer it. He passed the empty rooms and the bare corridor as he made his way to the front, feeling the sting as paintings and pieces of precious china that once decorated his home had disappeared to be sold to wealthy collectors. Only his nearest and dearest possessions remained in a double suitcase to be shipped to his new home.
Alfred's bright face beamed at him with more radiance and warmth than the pathetic winter sun. He looked healthier than he had ever been before; his skin seemed to exude wealth and power, all the things that Arthur currently lacked.
"Alfred?" Arthur peered at him through eyes too used to the gloom.
Alfred's smile wobbled slightly. Evidently he had not forgotten that their previous meeting had ended on less than cordial terms. Even Arthur grimaced in remembrance. He had been much angrier then than he was now, back when the discussion about the merger had been just that; a discussion.
"Are you ready? Let me take that for you," he grabbed Arthur's suit case before he could protest, dragging it to the black cab waiting by the curb.
Arthur wordlessly followed after him. He kept his eyes focused on his weak shadow proceeding ahead of him as if it was dragging him towards the inevitable future. He did not dare glance at Alfred; he knew that if he did the image of his broad back, powerful and confident, would resentfully burn itself into his brain for eternity.
He did not want to hate Alfred just yet.
He did not want to hate him and yet he felt a thousand bitter thoughts whirl within him, like a storm kept locked inside bottle; raging against glass until it shatters.
Inside the car, black walls surrounding them, caving in on them even, cushioned leather and seatbelts that smell like petrol, they sat on opposite ends. Alfred began to talk about his plans – their plans - for the future whilst Arthur tried not to grimace. The F word again.
He wondered if Alfred ever felt that there was something wrong with this picture...but probably not. He was talking too much, chatting too avidly to notice Arthur's unease.
"I know you've been having your reservations and stuff but I've had the house extended and the stuff you sent ahead has already arrived. I decorated the new rooms to your taste. You'll love it, trust me!"
A lump of indignation welled up in Arthur's throat, threatening to strangle him. He coughed and swallowed it down to prevent himself from tearing at Alfred. It was not his fault, not really, but he could not help but resent him for taking charge, for acting as if he already owned him.
Arthur turned his head away. He was not really looking out of the window so much as refusing to look at Alfred. The car whizzed past tree-lined streets in a green-grey blur, or perhaps it was the streets that were passing him, moving forward, leaving him behind.
He began to hum.
"What's that?" Alfred asked.
"Nothing," Arthur shrugged. "Just a song that I heard a long time ago."
Wrapped in America's new flag, the stars and stripes soaked into his skin. The imprint was like a tattoo colouring his soul and he felt naked despite his uniform and the flag with fifty-one stars wrapped like a cape across his shoulders.
The gazes of both British and American officials burnt him, their eyes crawled across his skin, leaving trails of hope and anger stamped onto his lungs, his gut, his heart.
From the corner of his eye Arthur could see the royal family standing with his prime minister. When this was over, they would have to start looking for new day jobs.
Alfred stood in front of him, slightly higher than Arthur on the steps leading up the podium where his president stood tall and proud, beaming from ear to ear. Alfred was not smiling but he did not look grim either and Arthur wanted to reach out his hand and press it against Alfred's heart just to check how it beat.
"Arthur Kirkland, we welcome you as the 51st state of America. God bless America!" the president announced and everyone clapped – sincerely or otherwise.
Arthur took Alfred's hand as he knelt, kissing it like a knight swearing fealty. He had done it a thousand times before to all his previous reigning monarchs, even to the odd prime minister if he greatly respected him – though Churchill had been the last.
Yet this was not his King, this was Alfred. This was not his prime minister, but, in a way, it was his boss-to-be.
His fingers tightened around Alfred's hand, his nails leaving faint crescent imprints in his skin.
"...God bless America."
"Orange and lemons sing the bells of St Clemens
You owe me five farthings say the bells of St Martins."
Would that be dollars now? You owe me five dollars. It did not have the same ring. In fact, it was all wrong.
The dimensions of Alfred's apartment were all wrong. His kitchen was too long and too wide, let in too much sunlight, smelt too strongly of coffee; felt too much like a stranger's kitchen. The ceiling above the corridor was too high, the lounge was too chic, there was too much leather. Everywhere Arthur looked it was all wrong.
He wanted his house back. He wanted the garden gate with its creaky hinges, he wanted his Union Jack bed covers and towels organised red, white, blue. He wanted his rose and strawberry bushes and his cheerful fireplace that crackled on dreary winter days when the sky was overcast and the clouds were drizzling. He wanted to have tea boiled in his own kettle, stirred with his own spoon, and sipped in his periwinkle blue teacups.
He wanted everything that had been lost.
It was selfish, and he knew that, but that knowledge did not abate his yearning for home.
Arthur glanced over his shoulder to where Alfred was standing, adjusting a pinstripe tie in front of a full-length mirror. He was humming stars and stripes forever as he struggled to knot it and Arthur did his best not to wince at the sound, once sweet and melodious, now grating his ears.
He wondered if Alfred suspected his unhappy thoughts; he probably did, Alfred was an idiot but he was not that much of an idiot. Perhaps, Arthur thought, he should buy himself a mirror and practice smiling.
Noticing Arthur's gaze, Alfred flashed him a brilliant smile. "Arthur, I'm going to the world meeting now, alright? If you need anything - "
"Oh no, I'll be fine, just fine," Arthur muttered tersely, hiding his sneer behind a teacup. Even the tea was wrong.
Unfortunately, Alfred was not oblivious enough to miss the derision lacing Arthur's words. His smile transformed into an annoyed frown, one which he directed straight towards him.
"Alfred?" Arthur's smile did not reach his eyes.
Two long strides took him to where Arthur sat; slamming the palm of his hand in front of him with such force that it shook the sleeping cutlery.
"What is your problem?" he shouted, "You agreed to this!"
"My problem?" Arthur seethed, rising to his feet in anger. He forgot about reconciling himself to his position, he forgot about buying himself a mirror, he forgot about smiling. The glass was broken and storm was out. "My problem is you and your astounding arrogance! If you had proposed a union I might have accepted it with some grace but this? A merger? I can't even go outside without wanting to bury my head in shame!"
"I told you that my bosses would only accept a merger!"
"And you love it, don't you? I see that the American empire is nice and healthy! Look!" he threw his hand across a poster of the world hanging in Alfred's study, most of Europe painted green but for one small island of dark blue; the same colour as America. "Parts of America are even in Europe now! You must feel so proud! Keep this up and you won't need your army of McDonalds and fast food fighters armed with French fries and artery-busting burgers to take over the world!"
Alfred's fists clenched, nails biting into skin, digging into pink flesh until he almost drew blood.
"You're just bitter even though it was your stupidity that got you into this recession mess in the first place!"
"Don't blame this on me!"
"Do you think I wanted this to happen to you?" Alfred ripped the map from the wall, shredding it in his fury. "Don't take out all your unhappiness on me when I haven't done anything wrong!"
"But you're loving it, aren't you?" Arthur hissed, staring accusingly at Alfred's indignant expression.
A mixture of hurt and anger flashed across Alfred's face before it became hard. Arthur had almost forgotten how scary he could be when enraged.
"You would have died if not for me! You would have passed away just like your brothers! I saved you!"
"Better to die with honour than to be a poodle to America!"
"Then die!" Alfred stormed towards the door, knuckles white under the pressure of his grip. "See if I care!" he shouted before slamming the door shut.
Arthur was staring at the mirror hanging on his – Alfred's – bathroom wall. He pressed the tips of his fingers to the corners of his mouth and pulled them up.
Look, a smile.
As he let his hands drop so did his smile. It was a frown now.
He tried again.
But Alfred was gone, and had been gone for hours now, perhaps days. Who knew how long these meetings took? Arthur was sure that he had forgotten, and there was nothing to do in Alfred's house.
Normally he would have had little free time between legislation and politics and diplomacy and those heaps and heaps of paperwork usually waiting for him. Those precious minutes he had to himself Arthur would spend tending the garden, or sewing, or perhaps even getting stone drunk with Francis.
There was nothing to do here. Even going through that pile of paper work would have been a blissful distraction from the world around him, the world that had forgotten him.
He stared at the flower imprints on the bathroom tiles, at the black smudge in the corner of the peach towel on the rack, at the chips in the white enamel sink.
Nothing to do. There was nothing to do.
He could hear the kitchen clock ticking.
Nothing to do.
He counted the steps as he went downstairs. There were twelve. Funny, he was sure that there had been thirteen. He went up again, counting them carefully as he did. Eleven. He went down again, counting them even more carefully. Thirteen.
Yes, there were thirteen steps after all. Arthur walked up and counted them again just to be sure. Thirteen again. Yes, there were definitely thirteen steps. He was glad that he had discovered that at least.
Now what should he do? There was nothing to do. Nothing to do.
In the evening Alfred returned to his house. Arthur had been counting the crinkles on the wallpaper of his room, hoping and hating himself for hoping that Alfred would return.
He despised this kind of dependency. When he closed his eyes and thought of his days of former glory, he just knew that other nations must be sniggering at him for it. How could he go outside, how could he meet the others in the state that he was in now? No, it was better to stay inside where the shame and humiliation came only from his own rebukes.
Alfred looked oddly penitent when he returned; poking his head around the door of Arthur's newly furnished bedroom before creeping in.
Arthur swung his legs over the double bed, ready to rise to his feet.
"Alfred, I - "
"Look, I'm sorry okay!" Alfred's tone hardly sounded apologetic but, from the way he avoided Arthur's gaze, there was a distinct sense of shame that had pitted his sense of justice and pride against each other. It seemed justice had won in the end and now he was apologising.
Well, miracles were called miracles because they had a chance of occurring.
Loosening his tie, Alfred flung it over his shoulder, and then promptly flung himself onto Arthur's bed before swivelling around so that he still did not have to look Arthur in the face.
"I didn't mean it when I told you to die," his voice came grudgingly, forced out his throat like a petulant child who knew but hated to admit their mistake. "I...don't really want you to die," he ended with a whisper, but it was sincere.
Whatever Arthur had been planning to say disappeared. Was there nothing to say? He wanted to apologise too but he also wanted to wrap his fingers around Alfred's neck and break his windpipe. He wanted to cry but he wanted to show Alfred that he was still strong. He wanted to kill him and become a nation again but he wanted to place his hand against that soft blond hair and pretend that all was right with the world.
Arthur did not speak. It was too hard. The world was choking him. Alfred was crushing him. The knowledge of his own weakness, of his pathetic figure reflected in the windows pierced him too keenly.
He turned around as well, resting against Alfred, back to back so that neither one had to look at each other. Arthur thought he felt the guilt emitted from Alfred radiating into him. He hated himself for not realising sooner, for only thinking about his own situation and not the sense of responsibility Alfred might have been feeling, the pressure of having another state, the misplaced guilt for what had happened, the desperate hope for the future...
"I hate you. Even though it's not your fault, I really, really hate you."
Arthur felt Alfred's back stiffen as he spoke. A moment later, he felt Alfred relaxing again. He wondered what kind of expression he was wearing but he did not dare turn around and look.
"...That's fine," Alfred spoke, fragile words shaking as they were released into the air.
Arthur drew his legs up to his chest. The silence was closing in too fast; its fingers were dark and cold, leaving behind a frost that constricted his lungs
"I mean it. I hate you."
Alfred's back breathed a hefty sigh "Then hate me, Arthur. Just don't die."
And it seemed as if eternity had been compressed into a single room constructed for the specific purpose of letting them say nothing at all. The silence would break the wings of a butterfly or rend the world apart.
They sat back pressed against back, trying to find each other in the darkness.
They gave him work as a state. 'They' being the formless, nameless spectres Arthur never saw or had any contact with other than through Alfred. The workload itself was nothing compared to that of a nation but it helped keep the boredom at bay on those multiple occasions when Alfred was gone.
The seasons passed as usual. The world cruelly continued its passage through time, though to Arthur it seemed as if he were a hapless spectator to its journey rather than a participant struggling against the flow.
"How was the meeting?"
"Boring," Alfred shrugged, draping his coat over the side of the table.
Arthur did not smile but he did not feel the urge to strangle Alfred as he would have previously done.
"I made you dinner," he said. "Since you've been having nothing but burgers lately, it's all vegetarian. Eat it."
"What?" Arthur looked up irritably at a beaming Alfred. After countless years of sharing the same breathing space, he had long since learnt that Alfred's happiness was directly proportional to the size of his headache.
Currently, Alfred was standing with his fifty-one star flag draped over his hand, covering something suspicious.
Amused by the tiniest hint of curiosity in Arthur's eyes, Alfred gripped the flag with his other hand and whipped it off with a flourish.
"A present! I figured you might get lonely when I'm not around!" he announced proudly.
A tiny yellow-orange lovebird hopped from perch to perch in its steel cage, twittering sweetly. Arthur tilted his head for a better look. He was not sure whether to smile at his caged comrade or pity it but, either way, he did not think that he could find the strength to let it go.
Oblivious to his thoughts, Alfred pushed the age into his arms. The gesture was full of such good intent that Arthur winced slightly.
"It's been fifty years since the merger. It's our anniversary so let's celebrate!"
Fifty years? Had it really been that long? But then again centuries passed like seconds for them.
"Why do I have to celebrate something depressing like that?" Arthur his head turned away stubbornly.
"Come on. Just once, won't you wear it with pride?" Alfred held up the flag as he would a coat for him to try on. Soft syllables escaped from his mouth and melted like bubbles.
"Alright. For you."
The words sounded pleasant on his tongue. It sounded like a pretty little lie.
"Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clemens
You owe me five farthings say the bells of St Martins."
The need to hurl his guts up woke Arthur from a pleasant sleep. Alfred was still away at another summit, though that was typical now; Alfred was usually away more often than not. Where was the boy when you ever needed him?
He had no idea why he was feeling sick. His economy had indeed improved since the merger – although it was not really his economy at all – and the riots against the merger had been non-existent for years.
Splashing his face with ice-cold water, Arthur fumbled for a towel – peach with a black spot on the corner – wondering what was wrong with him.
Head rising from the peach folds, he stared at his unchanged reflection in the mirror. Had his face melted yet?
Ah, he thought. I see...
"When will you pay me? Say the bells of Old Bailey
When I am rich say the bells of Shoreditch,"
The sound of the key in the lock and footsteps at the front door broke Arthur from his reverie. He had been reminiscing about nights spent roving the seven seas and days spent under the cover of clouds, a blanket of grass supporting his back.
"I'm home!" Alfred's voice resounded through the house and Arthur pushed himself off of his bed, swaying slightly as they world tilted beneath him.
"Welcome back," Arthur met him in the hallway, slightly wobbly on his feet and his cheeks flushed.
"Huh? Arthur, are you sick?" Alfred leaned over him, pressing a hand against his burning forehead.
Arthur chuckled and batted his hand away with a reassuring smile. "Just a little cold."
Alfred frowned. "I'm sorry. I've been so busy..."
"Doesn't matter," he shrugged. He knew that Alfred had a lot of work to do, work that only a fiftieth of belonged to Arthur, and that seemed to be decreasing every day.
If there were such things as revelations in life, Arthur believed that this was one of them.
Back in the days of Kings, when he was still young, before the birth of the Church of England, Francis had told him that with knowledge comes suffering, but after suffering comes acceptance; that was why Mary always looked at peace with herself.
Arthur wondered if after suffering acceptance would come for him too. Or perhaps it had already visited, settling discreetly into his bones without him even noticing.
There was certainly something soaked within his bones, though its feeling was not pleasant.
The lovebird hopped around the perimeter of its cage, head cocking this way and that in confusion. It was not the first one Alfred had given him - that one had died long ago – but Alfred kept replacing them as if he could fool Arthur into thinking that they lived for eternity. This one had no name. It was just 'the lovebird.'
Alfred was gone again. It was too quiet and the odd cheeps from the bird only made the silence swell. Arthur sat on the window seat, pushed his head back against the panes of glass and tried singing along with the lovebird's song.
Pale winter light crossed the floor. Another summer had come and gone, leaving in its wake the bite of frost. Arthur took Alfred's bomber jacket off of the peg and wrapped himself in it. One hand pressed against the cushioned seat, he gently picked up the bird cage with the other and heaved himself off of it; it took more effort than he had anticipated.
Shivering slightly, he paced to the front door; the entrance and exit which would bring or take away Alfred.
Stupid, he thought. That he should miss Alfred only when he was not around, even though he always had a huge headache whenever he was near. Then again, Arthur had not been outside for years, without Alfred he would have probably forgotten that such things as humans and nations existed. It was not that Alfred kept him locked away but he just could not bring himself go outside. How could he? It would make his shame public.
Arthur stared at the door, wondering why it looked so ominous. Since when had he begun to feel so small? So powerless? Gathering his courage, he took off the chain, pulled the handle and stepped outside.
If he could have described the feeling with a word, it would have been 'ah.' Breathe in, breathe out...ah. It was not the sound of a satisfied sigh, nor was it the sick sigh of a lovelorn boy, not 'ah, that was good', not 'ah, it's hopeless.' Just ah.
Like a cat stretching out in the weak sun, starting out strong, tail curling around the almost inaudible h.
The air was cold and the sky pale, like a whitewashed canvas on which the barren trees and grey rooftops had been sketched. The gravel at his feet crunched with frost, his breath was white, floating away like clouds into the sky.
Arthur stared above him and thought; 'ah.' Just ah. His mind was blank. His mind was full of everything, and above the silent roar, he thought; 'ah. So that's how it is.'
And he knew. He just knew. And with knowledge came suffering and then acceptance. Did he look calm now? Perhaps he could even fool someone into thinking that he was happy?
Or was he actually happy?
Yes, that was it; he was happy. Living with Alfred, surely he must have been happy all this time; he had just never known it.
"Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clemens
You owe me five farthings say the bells of St Martins"
He began to sing with his lovebird, although the sound of their songs was completely out of sync.
It was a song that he had heard a long time ago, perhaps another lifetime even. In that lifetime, had he been happy too?
"When will you pay me? Say the bells of Old Bailey
When I am rich say the bells of Shoreditch"
Arthur opened the cage and gave it a little, encouraging shake. The lovebird hopped to the entrance, poking its head out warily. Arthur jolted the cage a little and it flew out, spreading its wings into the sky.
He watched it until it disappeared, swallowed up by the white mists of the sky.
"When will that be? say the bells of Stepney
I do not know says the great bell of Bow"
He wanted to tell Alfred that he was sorry, that, probably, he had really been happy living with him after all. Where was he? Why was he always away?
"Here comes the candle to light you to bed"
Wasn't that his car? Yes, Arthur would have recognised it anywhere; it was always too big for Alfred and it made too much noise, it was definitely his car. He took a step forward, closer to the gate he had not crossed for one hundred years since arriving at Alfred's house. He should tell him. He had to tell him now.
"Here comes the chopper to chop off your head"
Arthur stretched out his arm and griped the bars of the gate, the bolt was frozen from the cold but he could see Alfred's car in the distance driving down the street towards him.
"Chip chop chip chop..."
The car pulled up in front of the drive before Arthur could free the gate bolt and Alfred stepped out. He seemed surprised to see Arthur outside, especially in such weather, and wearing his bomber jacket of all things. That look slowly turned to horror and he began to take long, hurried strides towards him, mouthing something Arthur could not quite hear.
Arthur was slightly hurt. Why could Alfred not look happy, especially now that he had come to apologise? Arthur opened his mouth to say something. He should tell him before...before...
"...the last man's..."
"........Thank you for tuning in to radio five! Aaaaand it's a fabulous day this March! The sun is shining, the weather is clear, and here in the 51st state preparation to celebrate one hundred years since the merger are well underway!
Today marks a landmark event in history! Today, all members of the 51st state will lose their dual nationality and gain full American citizenship, making them true blue American citizens. This is a momentous occasion, which marks the unity of America and the willingness of all members of this glorious country to work together for a brighter future! God bless the 51st state! God Bless America!"