Oh my gracious. Finally, From the Ashes has reached its conclusion. For those of you who have been waiting for the end, I do hope that you are not disappointed. Warning: This chapter has implications of naughtiness. About damned time, I am sure. Thank you to those who stuck it out. Without your interest and urgings, this might never have reached the finish line. And yet again, this is without beta help. All the errors are entirely my own.
I hope that you enjoy it.
Arthur sighed deeply, rolling his shoulder once again as he felt another surge of tension bleed out of his muscles. His injury had already healed. The bruises from his ordeal in the hands of his Russian captors and the wound to his shoulder mainly gone; except for the occasional twinge of pain in stubborn sinew. But Kiku had been wise to advise the Englishman on a good remedy for the twinges and aches that came with age or injury. So the island nation was making considerable use of Japan's private hot spring bath.
Kiku had brought their party back to his home upon their rescue. Arthur was grateful for this opportunity to unwind, recovering in relative peace before they had to make the journey back to Geneva. The chaotic company of their fellow nations would not have been conducive to his recuperation, especially when Arthur still felt bouts of tension over the entire adventure. He was piecing his composure back together a little more each day in the quiet comfort of Kiku's home, and surmised that the others were doing the same. Their tribulations in the wilderness might have come to an end, yet the troubles waiting back in Geneva would be an entirely different level of difficulty.
He was absorbed deep into thoughts of the days ahead of him, eyes vacantly watching the spill of delicate cherry blossoms spilling from blossoming trees, when the door behind him slid open and shut. Arthur sunk further down into the warmth of the water. He submerged himself up to his nostrils in a signal that he was not eager for anyone's company. What he had not counted on was American immunity to sullen dismissal.
Alfred slid down into the water beside the avoidant island nation. He splashed a little more than necessary to prove to Arthur that he wouldn't let the older man ignore him. His face was lit with a crooked, cheerful smile. "Kiku's been letting me get all caught up on his videogame collection. I had to have Mattie help me navigate through some parts when my eyes got too hazy but I think he had fun."
"It's probably a good sign, when your vision starts to go, that you should probably stop playing such things." Arthur drawled out as he bobbed back up to surface. "I'm surprised to see you out. I have expected that we were going to have to send a search party in to unglue you from the screen."
The American shrugged. "It helps me relax. Turn off my brain for a while, do something that isn't too important or demanding of me." Alfred nudged the Englishman, abruptly changing the subject with a lowering of his volume. "How's your shoulder?"
Arthur turned his face up higher to the sky. The sun was setting on another day of safety. So why was he suddenly feeling another bubble of tension inside? "It hurts a bit. Just more of annoyance than anything. I'm used to being annoyed by things though, so I think I might survive." He twitched a wry smile aside to the American.
It surprised him to see that Alfred's face had become solemn. The younger man's forehead was furrowed, eyes troubled as the American stared ahead of them towards the deepening shadows of the spring water. "We'll be leaving here soon. They're expecting us back at Geneva. So we can't put off returning much longer."
"Are you worried about what they'll say?" Arthur asked curiously as he tried to interpret the cause for Alfred's dampened mood. "Germany will honor his word to you. And as much as it pains me considerably to admit it, Francis isn't enough of a bastard that he'd turn things around either. Plus he knows that he'd have to deal with me if he considered trying to go back on his promise now."
"Well, yeah, I mean I am worried a little about it-" Alfred cut off with an exasperated huff, twisting now to face Arthur more fully. "I wasn't really talking about that stuff. Doesn't it bother you? That after all of this time we've spent, and everything that we've been through - in a few days we'll still have to go back to normalcy. You and I... we were just getting somewhere."
Arthur stared at Alfred during this rambling admission. He looked quickly away, trying hopelessly to ignore the sudden heat in his cheeks that signaled an unwelcome blush. "It was always inevitable, wasn't it? That at the end of this crisis we would go our separate ways again. You're desperately needed back across the Pond to assist your people. I no doubt have a considerable heap of work to return to when I reach London. Before you know it you are going to be so overwhelmed with things to do that it won't even cross your mind. And eventually you'll forget all about this puzzle of 'us'."
Alfred shook his head stubbornly. He wasn't prepared to let it go no matter how reasonably Arthur dismissed it away. "We don't have to let it end like that. There's always other options. We could-"
"Could what?" Arthur heard his voice turn colder, thick with bite. He knitted his eyebrows together to fix the American with a dark look. "Court each other across the Atlantic? Because a long distance 'relationship' worked out so well for us the first time around, hm?"
That scathing retort earned the Englishman a swift thump on the nose. Arthur swore softly, scowling at Alfred as the other man gave him a warning look that he'd repeat the action. "There's no reason to play dirty like that. Maybe it could work. The world's different now. We are different now. Plus, there are cellphones and computers and internet communication. Er... when they get it all working again anyway."
Pursing his lips, Arthur shook his head again in negation. "You make it sound like it would be so easy. Yet there are a million reasons why it won't work." He reached over to place his hand upon the American's arm to give it a gentle squeeze. "Alfred - America. It was a thrilling adventure. The time that we shared together is something I'm sure we'll think warmly of in the future. Let's just leave it at that. For your sake and for my own."
Alfred looked disappointed. He opened his mouth to voice further argument, except the Englishman had made it clear that the issue was no longer open for discussion. The American glanced aside with a frown. "Sorry. Yeah, you're right. I'll have a ton of work to do. Have to rebuild fast if I'm going to be a superpower again, you know? And you'll have all those meetings, diplomatic things - the polite stuff that you seem to enjoy doing."
Arthur shifted uncomfortably. He couldn't tell if that disappointment were genuine or a deception to get to him. However, that look on Alfred's face had always been a weakness for him. He sighed, pinching at the bridge of his nose. Pushing up higher so that he could twist towards the American, Arthur surprised himself when he reached out to take hold of the younger man's chin. His head closed in to press a quick kiss upon Alfred's mouth.
A sound of surprise from Alfred felt like a reward. Arthur had released him within seconds, climbing hurriedly out of the water to leave the American gaping. The island nation wrapped a towel around his waist with his back stiffly turned to Alfred. His voice was light as he spoke over his shoulder, though the spread of the Englishman's blush had spread clear to the nape of his neck. "We're not back to work yet. There are still a couple of days left to put those concerns off and just enjoy it."
Arthur snatched up another towel to fluff at his hair as he padded away to the door, a green eye flashing back at Alfred as he slid the wood open. "And don't stay in too long. You might faint or prune. Ivan would never let you live it down."
The night was quiet. Yet Arthur was still uncontrollably restless. He wished that there were some distraction to focus his mind upon. Once there had been spirits here to disturb his sleep; now they were gone, whether from the events of the world or having faded with time, Arthur didn't know. The stillness around him would not allow him to settle, and the island nation turned over onto his side for the hundredth time while he tried to figure out what had caused this tension in him.
It certainly wasn't his room. Kiku had gone to much effort to make it a place that he'd enjoy. There were subtle details that their Japanese host had thoughtfully added for his comfort. A vase of his beloved roses to fill the room with a scent of home. The soft fabric of a blanket imprinted with his national flag that Arthur had enjoyed just as much his first visit there. Such considerations on Kiku's part was a factor in what had made them fast friends so long ago, and Arthur could nearly summon up fond memories despite everything that had transpired since those distant years.
Arthur dug his cheek further down into his pillow, scowling at the wall. He felt like he were waiting for something. What that might have been, the Englishman couldn't pinpoint. Waiting for the unavoidable time when he'd have to return home to mounds of work and the endless cycle of responsibility? Waiting for some new crisis to interrupt these last few days of peace? Or was he just simply waiting for dawn to arrive?
The door to his room slid open and shut behind him in the darkness.
Oh. Arthur thought as he held his breath. So that's what it was.
He reluctantly began to turn over to face his nighttime visitor. There was already a good idea in his head who it was. He squinted at the approaching shape in the darkness, opening his mouth to voice some whisper, though what he might say had not yet occurred to Arthur. On the edge of him blurting something out there was a sudden thud in his room. That moving shape was abruptly hurtling at him, so that Arthur could only brace himself for a landing when a heavy weight came crashing down across his waist. "Oof!"
"Aw, crap!" The accent was unmistakeably American. Arthur could feel Alfred trying to pull his limbs out of the graceless heap they had fallen into. It caused knees and elbows to dig painfully at the island nation's body as he applied as much effort to shoving at the bigger man to get that weight off him. Alfred's voice was an exaggerated whisper. "Sorry. Sorry! I didn't mean to trip on you."
Arthur pushed up onto his elbows. He reached over to the wall nearby, pulling on the string that connected with drawn curtains at his window so that he could get them opened. Moonlight flooded in as a thin stream so that it highlighted the pinched face of Alfred poised upon the bottom of the mattress, hair tousled and the borrowed robe from Kiku twisted awkwardly now. Arthur's imagination helpfully supplied a flash of the American's old, familiar eyeglasses where they would have undoubtedly been rendered askew if they'd been on Alfred's face.
Bemused with this invasion of his failed attempts at sleep, Arthur smirked wryly at the American. "What are you doing in here, Alfred? Get lost on the way to your room?"
"I... ah..." Alfred's face turned aside, the shadows claiming enough of his features that Arthur couldn't read his expression. "I thought about what you'd said. About making the most of this time. And I figured that... um..." He trailed off, faltering again.
Arthur's smirk softened. "You figured that you'd come barreling into my room before proceeding to fall and try to crush me in my bed?"
"No." Alfred looked back at the older man, sullen. "It wasn't the cool entrance that I had been hoping for, I'll admit."
"I can't recall a time when you attempting to sneak into my bedroom was ever 'cool'." The Englishman pointed out, before he slid his elbows out from their supporting angles to drop back heavily to the mattress. Arthur sighed as he gazed up at the hovering American. "If this is an attempt at seduction, you're blowing it."
Alfred's face broke out in a grin. "Sorry. I'm better as a man of action. You have a knack for putting me off my normal rhythm. I think I've got it handled now."
The American plucked at the fabric of Arthur's blanket, peeling it up so that he could slip below to invade that warm space. Arthur's intended retort was silenced as Alfred covered his mouth by swooping down for a kiss. That action caused all the thoughts in the Englishman's brain to abruptly dissolve. He felt too hot now, blanketed as he was by fabric; more distractingly by the weight of Alfred's body and the spreading grasp of the American's limbs.
Arthur felt a sensation akin to drowning. The air in his lungs closed off, forcing him to turn his face aside to break from that kiss. He gasped out breathlessly. "I'm surprised that you'd even care to do this under something with my banner on it."
There was a brief hesitation on Alfred's part as he was reminded of this fact. Then an arm went moving across them, before Arthur caught a glimpse of his blanket being swept aside. He blinked eyes that were turning quickly dazed to track the image of his flag folding into a careless collapse on the floor nearby. It occurred to him to protest this casual mistreatment of his national emblem, yet when he opened his mouth to do so Arthur found his chin being taken by a hand too unfairly strong, and his lips being claimed by a kiss too unfairly searing.
He decided that it was a slight he could let pass for now.
Neither man bothered to retrieve it for the rest of the night.
Stepping out onto the tarmac into afternoon sunshine, Arthur was surprised to find that some of their fellow nations had bothered to come greet them. His cheeks heated with awkward tension as the Englishman endured a few embraces. He glanced aside to see that Matthew was speaking rapidly with Francis, their French flowing out as breezily as the slight wind that the slowing propellers overhead was still kicking up. There was some confusion, then alarm, in the initial moments that Ivan hopped down out of their transport helicopter. Matthew quickly smoothed over the situation with the promise of further explanation once everyone was inside.
Arthur was distracted from the conversations taking place with Yao, Ivan and the rest. He found himself abruptly being taken into a tight hug from an unexpected source. The Englishman was flustered to be embraced by Francis; they were better at being rivals than being friends, yet knowing that the other nation felt some sincere concern for him was oddly touching. Of course, all too quickly, the Frenchman's hands started to stray right where they didn't need to. Arthur was just forming a fist for a deserved punch when all at once he was extracted out of Francis' grip with a strong hand.
Quickly inserting himself between the two, Alfred flashed a bright, beaming smile to Francis while casually fitting his arm across Arthur's shoulders. He had their bags dangling in his other hand, the weight effortless. "Heya, Francis! Got a hug for me too?"
"A-ah." Francis was quick to catch on to some subtle warning in the American's tone. His blue eyes flickered intently over the pair before puckering thoughtfully in the corners. The man's sudden smile erased that subtle shift. "Perhaps after everything has settled down, oui? Matthieu~!" Bidding a quick retreat, the Frenchman returned his attention to the Canadian, pawing at Matthew as he began escorting the younger man back towards the complex.
Arthur watched them start to go. He nudged Alfred in the ribs, causing the American to grunt. "You didn't need to do that. I can handle Francis just fine on my own."
Once he'd recovered from that well-aimed dig at his ribs, Alfred grinned down. "Oh. You have no idea how much I needed to do that. For the look on his face, if for no other reason."
With a roll of his eyes, Arthur reached to take his bag from the other man. "Regardless, I can take care of things without your help. And I can certainly carry my own belongings. We're getting left behind."
"Mm." Alfred's grunt was dismissive. He still made no motion to release the Englishman that he'd succeeded in catching in the grip of that looped arm. "Just give me a minute. I still don't know what's going to happen in there. Can I at least lean on you for a few seconds more?"
". . ." Arthur sighed. He looked up at Alfred, those words softening up his resolve to be professionally aloof. "It'll all turn out just fine. I promise that I won't let them corner you into some arrangement that you'll hate. We worked too hard and went too far for anyone to accuse you of being incapable. Just trust me, all right?"
Alfred nodded slowly. He applied a light squeeze across the Englishman's shoulders. The American looked ahead to where the other nations were vanishing into the glass doors of the entrance, then reluctantly let go of Arthur. "I know that you've got my back. Though it's the others that I'm worried about. Like France, for example. You think he suspects? About us?"
"Does it matter? There's really nothing to suspect. We discussed this." Arthur reminded him, turning his face quickly aside to hide his blush as he began walking hurriedly for the doors. "I am sure that Francis is keen to something having changed, yet that man always projects his own worst intentions upon other people's actions. I wouldn't worry about him. And I certainly wouldn't worry about the subject. This isn't the time to rehash over that particular topic. You need to get your head wrapped around what you plan to say to them once we're in that meeting, America."
Alfred's features pinched as he made a face. "Yeah, yeah. I got it. Come on, then. I'll show them how America gets things done."
The conference room was abuzz. To Arthur, that chaos of noise felt like the first real step back towards normalcy. He had settled into his seat beside Francis without even having bothered to go to his room and unpack, or ringing up his officials to inform them of his return. That was a lecture to put off for the time being. Arthur spent much of his time looking around the room to take in the gathering of nations that had thankfully grown since the day that he'd left here on a wild adventure.
Many more nations had come out of the broad world. Even some feared to have been lost forever had proven otherwise. Arthur looked at the faces of these other nations, and though he could not count many of them as friends, it still pleased him to see that they were still around. His eyes lifted to the map that still hung upon the wall of the conference room. Some of those territories marked in red had been revised. Less lost than intially expected. It gave Arthur a bit of hope.
The Englishman's attention was pulled back to the table as Alfred claimed the seat on his other side. Matthew quickly followed, sitting beside his brother to lend the American support for whatever was about to come for them both. Leaning forward, the Canadian smiled encouragingly over at Arthur, even winking quickly. It earned a grudging smile out of the older man. Some of the tension in his stomach lessened.
No matter what the outcome today, both of his boys would turn out just fine.
Standing up from his seat at the head of the table, Germany picked up a gavel. He rapped it loudly to gain the attention of the nations still milling around in conversation. As the last buzzing whispers faded off into silence, Ludwig cleared his throat to address the assembly. "My fellow nations. As you have heard and now witnessed, we welcome back four members of our brethren today. America, Canada and England succeeded not only in rescuing China from the remote disaster area of the nuclear strikes, but also brought back Russia with them as well. It had been our estimation that both nations were lost in the tragedy that befell us nearly a year ago; as was the case with many others gathered here. Yet now we see that there is still hope for us to find more of our lost friends somewhere out in the world."
Ludwig drew himself up straighter. His pale eyes moved across the faces intent on him. "It has been a long, hard road just getting this far. This crisis for our world was unlike one that we ever faced before. At this time of tribulation, we managed to come together, in the spirit of rare, unbiased cooperation. We have been successful in rebuilding key modes of communication, transportation and in assisting our citizens in the reconstruction process. However, we are not here today to praise our own successes. The issues that are at the forefront of this meeting today are just as important, as the decisions made for them will impact how we proceed into the future from here. To begin, I yield the floor over to France."
Glancing aside, Arthur felt the Frenchman shift to stand as he was called upon. Francis managed to tamper his usual dazzling smile into one better suited to the more grave topics that they had come to discuss today as he addressed the assembly. "Our first order of business, which I am sure many of you are keen to resolve, is how we intend to act upon the matter of Russia's unexpected return."
A few nations glanced down the table to where Ivan was seated. Arthur followed their gazes to where the Russian was in his place. The boy was dwarfed by his chair, hands folded upon the table that his head was only barely able to see over. Despite the fact that they were now discussing his fate, Ivan's expression was serene. Arthur could read a casual resignation in the boy's manner; the chances of anyone speaking up for him here were slim, not just for his actions in the past but for his own broad instigation of attacks against many who had come here.
Ivan's eyes shifted to meet the Englishman's. His lips curved into a tiny, subtle smile. Even in the shell of a boy, Russia was as fearless as ever. There had been plenty of time during their journey for Ivan to ponder upon his eventual fate upon their return to Geneva. It seemed that he was at peace no matter the result.
Arthur turned his eyes down, tuning back in to Francis' words beside him. "-just as I am aware that Russia's actions cannot go unpunished. Many of us were attacked without any provocation in the situation. It has already been proposed that Russia be removed from his position of remaining national power, and that what salvageable lands in his possession be placed under the care of-"
There was a clatter from further down the table. The sound managed to interrupt Francis, who was left staring in surprise. Arthur felt his own eyebrows creeping upwards in astonishment to find that Matthew had stood up from his chair in the middle of the Frenchman's speaking. But no one looked quite as startled as the Canadian himself. His cheeks flushed, eyes flickering uncertainly as he found the attention of the entire assembly upon him. "A-ah... I.. object."
Francis glanced down to Arthur for explanation as a fresh buzz of whispers spread around the table. The Englishman shrugged, pushing up with hands braced on the table so that he could speak up as Matthew began to falter. "I am sure that whatever Canada wishes to say is highly important. Might we hear him out, Germany, before we proceed any further about talk of dismantling Russia?"
"I'll allow the interruption, with the permission of France?" Ludwig's gaze shifted from the two men, questioning Francis. The Frenchman's shoulders pulsed his own shrug. His hand twisted in the air to gesture a prompt towards Matthew as he sat down, watching the Canadian with curious amusement.
Matthew sought out Arthur's gaze to give him a nervous nod of gratitude. The Englishman returned a small smile of encouragement before jerking his head in a subtle indication of the assembly that was waiting. It was Matthew's turn to speak. And, for once, he had an audience listening intently.
Gathering his thoughts in the face of his impulsive objection, Matthew took a deep breath and forced his nervous voice into one of firm persuasion. "No one here will argue that Ivan is responsible for much of the destruction that happened. We know that there is a burden of guilt that falls upon him for what transpired. I myself suffered the misfortune of having two of his missiles strike my territory. It was painful. And it took me some time before I was able to recover from the damage. I still feel the occasional twinge from wounds that haven't fully healed." He shifted his weight to shake one of his legs to indicate what he meant.
"But to assign all of the blame upon Ivan, and to hold him accountable for the entire span of events of that day, is unfair." Matthew turned his head to focus upon Ivan briefly. His eyes then moved slowly around the table to the faces of the other nations. "For a long time, we have allowed the people of our nations to act as they so choose. We exist among them as figureheads now more than anything. It is easier to pretend that we had no part in it when they commit acts of evil, isn't it? Many times, sitting among all of you, I have heard that very excuse used to dismiss massacres, war and needless destruction of their lands. No one here has ever opted to take direct responsibility for the actions of their people. Yet now that the tables have turned, it sounds like the actions of Russia's people on that day are being pinned directly to him. An obvious hypocrisy."
He pointed in Ivan's direction, Matthew's courage building enough with the few nods of agreement that he received for the Canadian to continue. "Nothing in Ivan's conduct along our journey showed any indication that he was seeking out power, or destruction. There were many times where he could have acted selfishly. In the sake of his own interests, Ivan might have easily made it so that none of us would have returned from our journey. The opportunities were there. If his intentions were as monstrous as initially believed, then I certainly would not be standing here amongst you. Ivan helped to save us. He didn't have to fight against his own people."
Matthew dropped his hand to tap his finger upon the tabletop. "None of us were there to witness for ourselves how his people decided to act on that day when nuclear warfare began. I can tell you from experience, though, that they seem to be in a state of confusion. And confusion can lead all too easily into fear, and fear has always been the catalyst for acting destructively in the past. Many of them are simply trying to live in a world that has fallen into chaos for them, uncertain of what is going to happen in the future and waiting for guidance. I wouldn't doubt that many of them are just like Ivan right now - expecting the worst and trying to bolster themselves to meet it with grace."
"If we send other nations in to alter the course of their lives then we... ah.. I mean, who knows what they might.. do." As the steam started to fizzle out of him, Matthew's conviction went unraveling with it. He bit on the corner of his lip as his mind derailed from the point that he was trying to make.
Standing up beside his brother, Alfred was ready to jump in to keep the Canadian's momentum going. "Canada's right. And I think what he is trying to say is-"
"We have not yet recognized you, America. Please reclaim your seat." Germany interrupted tersely, knowing how easily Alfred could get them off topic considering his past speeches.
Alfred's jaw clamped shut, the American scowling. He began to lower back into his chair, yet a hand on his arm made him pause. His face turned to England in surprise to find that it was the island nation. The Englishman swiveled his chair towards the head of the table where Germany was still prepared to reiterate the rules. Arthur's smile was polite. His eyes were not. "Forgive me for pointing this out, Germany, but with all due respect I think that America going out of his way these last months to rescue China has earned him the right to say whatever the bloody hell he wants to say, when he wishes to say it."
Taking his hand off Alfred's arm, Arthur sunk back into his chair, sending his eyes over the rest of the table. The challenging look on his face was perfected from years of piracy as he added, "My boys are talking. And anyone that has an issue with it can bring it up to me in person after the meeting." He caught Alfred's eye to give a subtle jerk of his chin indicating for the American to continue.
It took every ounce of discipline Alfred possessed not to grin at that. Luckily, his humor was tempered by the serious business at hand. "Thanks, England. Anyway, as I was about to say: Taking away the power of a nation and putting it into someone else's hands shouldn't be a solution to every problem. Even though it pains me to say it, we can't put all the blame on Russia. The little bastard needs to get his people back on track. Otherwise the same kind of people that we encountered while there will just start to spread until it's all completely out of control."
"What should happen, rather than removing him out of power, is for Russia to be allowed to run his country with close supervision. Then if he does start getting out of hand we can be alert to it right away." Alfred suggested, trying to sound reasonable rather than his usual domineering self. "We have already established Geneva as our base of operations, right? So Ivan can remain here, where there are bound to be nations on hand to keep an eye on him. And while he is being babysat in.. uh.. international house arrest, he can continue to rebuild his country from afar. It's gonna take him a hell of a long time to even be able to reach the top shelf of a fridge, let alone cause another international crisis."
"And if for some reason the little runt decides to stir things up here in Geneva, then I'll personally make the trip from my land to haul his ass back to the States." Alfred promised with a narrowing of blue eyes at Ivan in warning. "Because I will be returning to my people, and no one else is going to be in charge of rebuilding my land but me. Right?"
Ludwig's mouth tugged down in the corners. "We were going to put that to a vote. In light of your arguments, and the fact that England is glaring at me like that, I think we can skip that part of today's agenda to avoid any potential bloodshed." The German's pale gaze rested heavily upon Alfred from his seat. "You have made your point, America. And a proposal is now on the floor supporting that Russia remain in his position of power under observation. We will take a vote on it beginning now."
Arthur was in his room when a knock came on his door. He could tell by the excitement of it who had come to call upon him. The Englishman opened it, stepping back when swinging it open to evade the charge of an intended embrace as Alfred came rushing in. "There's no need to gloat out here where the neighbors can hear you, America. But do come in."
Alfred slumped a little in disappointment to find his arms still empty where he had calculated an Englishman would be. His bottom lip jutted out as the American pushed the door shut behind him, since Arthur had already abandoned him to return to his task. "I'm not gloating. Okay, well maybe a little gloating." Trailing after Arthur, he frowned as he watched the island nation stuff a meticulously folded sweater into a suitcase. "What are you doing?"
"Packing." Arthur informed him dryly, as if this ought to have been obvious. "I've been delayed long enough. My people need me back at home as soon as I can make it - and there just so happens that one of the helicopter pilots has agreed to make the trip over to my place despite the hour being so late." He pulled open another drawer to check if it had been emptied. "So I've got about ten minutes to be ready to go."
When he returned to his suitcase with a handful of folded socks, Alfred's hand flipped up the lid of it to bar the Englishman from adding them to the rest. Arthur blinked up in surprise, only to find a dark look on the younger man's face. Alfred's eyes were hard. "And I take it you were planning to just sneak away without saying a word to me? I would have figured you to have grown out of those old habits by now."
"It's not like that and you know it." Arthur retorted tersely. He batted Alfred's hand aside to wedge his socks into his briefcase. His spine stiffened in offense to the implication made with those words. "We have both an exorbitant amount of work to do. Everything that we set out to do here has been accomplished. You and Matthew will be returning home here very soon to get your own affairs in order. It's time for me to go."
Alfred huffed. He tried to remain stubborn on the issue. There just wasn't any arguing with Arthur's logic. The American tossed his hands skyward in defeat. "Okay, okay. So you're right. The sooner that we all get started, the better. But don't pretend like your sudden sense of urgency has everything to do with you slinking out of here without telling me."
Arthur was prevented from retreating to the dresser again as a long arm wrapped around his waist. Alfred fetched the smaller man to his side, a hand already fitting fingers firm on Arthur's chin to turn the Englishman's face up to lock their eyes. This naturally caused the island nation to sputter in mild protest, even if it felt proper and inviting there in that embrace. Alfred's voice dropped low. "You just can't bring yourself to deal with saying 'goodbye', can you?"
"Don't presume to understand my motivations." Arthur grumbled, betrayed by the wash of pink across his features and his evasive eyes. "I could always ring you later. It's not as if we won't be speaking again soon. You need not make it sound like I am running off forever."
"I know that." Alfred nodded quickly. "But after what we've been through, and what we shared, you shouldn't presume that I'd let you walk out the door without getting to do this."
Alfred's face swooped down to close his lips securely over Arthur's. The Englishman's immediate need to resist it and Alfred's automatic move to dominate it made it hard in the beginning. Then they found the right balance to perform a subtle alchemy that transformed their clash of mouths. It was sweet for a long moment, full of tender pressure and warmer emotions. Arthur surrendered with a soft exhale, allowing the touch of Alfred's fingertips on his cheek to seep through his walls long enough to just enjoy the kiss.
Suddenly Alfred's arm tightened in a squeeze, which somehow sparked some answering need in Arthur, and the Englishman heard a soft growl rolling out of his throat as he began to attack the younger man's mouth with more earnest. It was something that was always just under the surface of his demeanor; a wilder streak that was too long dormant. Arthur's fingers thrust deep in Alfred's hair to force the kiss deeper as he greedily sought more.
Another knock on his door served as a timely interruption. It knocked the Englishman back from the verge of whatever conquest he might have been about to attempt on Alfred's person. He twisted out of the American's arm with a quick clearing of his throat, ignoring the fact that he'd gone scarlet clear up to the roots of his hair. "I imagine that'll be the pilot. Get the door for me, would you?"
Alfred swallowed thickly as he nodded. The American's lips were reddened from the last moments of their kiss, but Alfred managed to mask it by plastering on a grin as he got the door. "Well hey there! You must be the poor guy that has to fly this grumpy bastard back to London, huh?"
"Sorry for taking so long." Arthur called from near the bed as he zipped up his briefcase. He took it in hand before crossing to the door to greet the pilot. After that small exchange, Arthur turned to Alfred beside him. His hand stuck out in front of him, all business and composure, like he hadn't just been about to devour Alfred's mouth. "Thank you again, America. For... well... for everything."
Green eyes locked with blue, as Alfred firmly gripped the Englishman's hand. He squeezed it while trying to transmit through his gaze what he didn't dare say in front of the human pilot. It might have made Arthur's head explode with embarrassment. "Likewise. We'll be in touch again soon, yeah? Give me a call when you make it home. And try not to drown yourself immediately in work. An old man like you needs his rest."
Arthur retracted his hand. He gave the American a deadpan look for that last insult, pivoting smartly on his heel as he walked out of the room after the pilot. "Piss off, Yankee."
Six Months Later
"...and with China signing today, that marks yet another country that has joined the world in making a statement against any future construction of nuclear weaponry. This popular legislation, first proposed by Canada and given solid backing from the United States, has since created a wave of international support. A future without any possibility of a repeated tragedy of the events that unfolded over a year ago. At a press conference today, China's officials stated-"
Arthur hit the button for the remote to cut the newscaster off, leaving the television screen blank. It was just another distraction that he didn't need. He'd already heard from China that morning about the impending signing and while the news was welcome it certainly didn't help his concentration to have the noise in the background. His office was already buzzing enough as it was. "I'm sorry. What were you saying?"
"The budget report. You had promised to have it done two days ago, sir. Plus, Her Majesty is still waiting for word from you as to whether you'll be attending the gala to welcome the visiting delegates from Scotland. It's best that you not blow them off again, sir, don't you think?"
Arthur groaned. "They're always so demanding. I have been making the trip up there almost every week but you'd think I hadn't set foot in Saxon territory since the Dark Ages." He rubbed at his cheek, sighing out as he tried to remember where he'd stashed that budget report. The Head of Accounting continued to hover nearby as if expecting that Arthur would deliver it promptly. It took the Englishman almost five minutes to finally fish it out from the rest of the stack to hand it over.
His secretary came in with a fresh up of tea, holding a small parcel in his other hand. "A package came for you, sir. Shall I just leave it here?"
"Yes, thank you." Arthur answered automatically, relieved as the man from Accounting finally left his office. He took that teacup gratefully to sip at it. "Do you know who the package is from?"
"No sir." Shaking his head, Arthur's secretary took away his empty teacup. "But I was instructed by the delivery man that you should open it urgently. Shall I lock the door to give you a few minutes to breathe, sir?"
Arthur shook his head. "It wouldn't do me a bit of good. Someone else is bound to come rushing in here any moment with another task for me." Placing his teacup aside, the Englishman quickly took that package in hand to start opening it. Arthur sat back deep in the support of his chair as he worked the tape open, peeling back the lid to see what might have come to him, certain that it must have been something wonderfully boring like new office supplies.
Instead, it was a cell phone.
Picking it up out of the box, Arthur turned it over to make a curious inspection of it. He noticed a small note that had been tucked below the phone and unfolded it to read what it said with a tilt to his head.
Turn it on.
Unable to resist such a cryptic message like that, the Englishman frowned in confusion as he complied with the request of the note. Shortly after he did the cell phone started to vibrate as a message reached it. Arthur checked the number to see who it was from.
Unknown: Hi there.
Arthur's eyebrow arched. That wasn't the most informative clue he had to work off of. The cell phone shook again.
Unknown: It's me. Alfred. You busy right now?
Snorting quietly in amusement, Arthur smiled softly. It had been a while since he'd had a chance to speak directly with Alfred. These last months had been so overwhelming for the both of them that getting to talk had been rare, and he had not even seen Alfred in person since leaving Geneva. He felt a thrill in his heart, twisted bittersweet over this stolen opportunity. Arthur's thumbs tapped awkwardly over the keys of the phone. I'm right swamped, actually. Swamped in work. Same with you?
He was impatient for the next message, tugging his tie loose as Arthur curled further into his seat. The answer was quick.
Alfred: I'm always busy. Heroes don't rest. But you shouldn't work so much. You'll get wrinkles. Take a break?
Can't do that, I'm afraid. People have been running in and out of my office all day.
Alfred: You want me to rescue you?
Arthur chuckled out loud at that question. He shook his head, smirking at yet another impossible plan from the American. Sure. You distract them with robots and I'll make a break for it in the mayhem.
Alfred: I didn't bring any robots with me.
That caused Arthur's head to twist in a new direction. The wording confused him. He hesitated before typing another response. How are you going to rescue me without robots?
Alfred: How about we drive off into the sunset? Really, really fast.
Arthur rolled his eyes. And when are we going to do that?
Alfred: Look out your window.
With a scowl, Arthur lowered the cell phone to look out the window again as it instructed him to do. His office window gave him a full view of the parking lot, as well as the businesses that lined the block around the area. He nearly dropped it out of his grip with a sudden shock.
Alfred waved at him cheerfully from outside. The American was seated on a motorbike, one foot braced on the ground. It seemed surreal that Alfred could actually be there, and yet Arthur was unable to blink the image away. He was slack-jawed as he slowly rose from his chair to stare outside at the younger man. Breaking their eye contact, Alfred focused down on something in his hand, nimble fingers moving quickly. Then the American looked directly back at Arthur again, just as the cell phone in the Englishman's hand vibrated again.
Arthur looked down at it dumbly to read the new message from the man outside.
Alfred: Right now. Come on, England. I'll have you back before midnight. Run away with me?
The cell phone clattered down upon Arthur's desk. He hurried to the door of his office, snatching his jacket off its hook on his way out. The Englishman ducked his head down to ignore the questions that pelted him along the way - most of all the trailing voice of his secretary. "Sir? Sir, where are you going? Sir, there's your press meeting in half an hour. Sir?"
Practically at a run as he broke free into the parking lot, Arthur's coat flapped behind him as he rushed to the American and that motorbike. The Englishman slowed to a stop, leaning against Alfred's shoulder as he panted to try recovering his breath from having made an escape in record time. "S-sonofabitch. My employees are a merciless group of slave drivers."
"Sounds like you need a hero." Alfred announced with a grin. He gathered Arthur's body to his side in a clumsy embrace, cell phone still in his hand. Arthur was glad to stand in that warmth. It felt natural to lean there for a moment's rest. The American hummed as he loosened his grip on Arthur, shifting upright to start the bike. With a roar, the engine came to life as Alfred pointed to the doors of the office. "You'd better hop on. They're giving chase!"
Arthur twisted to glance over his shoulder. His secretary was coming out of the front doors with a stack of papers in one hand and Arthur's briefcase in the other. "Sir! Your documents! They're due by the end of the day!"
Not wasting another second with hesitation, the Englishman hurriedly climbed up to sit behind Alfred on the motorbike's seat. He snaked his arms around the American's torso to cling tightly to him and yelled over the sound of the engine. "My hero. Now drive!"
Alfred cranked the gas so that they went shooting off, speeding forward away from Arthur's secretary. The Englishman held tighter as the American went veering off out of the parking lot and into the mass of London traffic. Wind was blowing through Arthur's hair, rushing over his face, though once they had left the property the younger man had slowed them a sensible speed. Arthur lifted his face up to speak loud in the American's ear. "What the hell are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be doing press conferences for your nuclear ban legislation?"
"Mattie's handling it." Alfred shouted back over his shoulder. "Now that people are really listening to him, he's actually turning out to be one hell of a spokesperson. Who'd have thought he'd be good at the diplomatic stuff?"
"So basically you are shirking your duties to be here?" Arthur asked him with a smirk.
Alfred turned his face back ahead to watch the traffic without bothering to answer that. He drove them a few blocks more before speaking to Arthur again. "I wanted to see you. I had to see you. France had called me the other day and told me that you were being consumed by work. Someone needed to come here and save you from it."
"I'll have to thank the frog for being considerate for a change." Arthur mused, lacing his fingers together against Alfred's stomach. He turned his face down into the leather of the American's jacket. That old, familiar bomber jacket had gone through enough repairs that it smelled once again of musky leather rather than burnt material. "What are you planning to do with me now that you've rescued me?"
The American grinned broadly. "Lunch first. Then we go back to your house. And once I've got you completely worn out then we're going out for dinner. After that, it's your place again for the rest of the night. Any objections to my plan, England?"
"There's only two flaws that I can observe in it, America."
"And what's that?"
"First, we should get a hotel room instead. My house is far too risky. They'll track me down there too easily." Arthur pointed out.
"Roger that." Alfred agreed, before asking curiously. "What's the second flaw in my plan?"
Arthur squeezed the other man.
"You're driving on the wrong side of the bleeding road."
And they lived dysfunctionally ever after. Though I am sure this is not the last of these two in their little universe. Next on the agenda is the continuation of World Conference. And perhaps a few more bits and pieces here that might help to make up for such a long, long absence.
Thanks again to those of you who encouraged this story to its conclusion. All my love and cookies.