Pairing: Alfred Jones/Arthur Kirkland (USUK)
Summary: WW2 AU. Londoner Arthur Kirkland's pub, the Emerald Lion, is overrun by American servicemen on leave. One in particular is driving him to distraction - loud, brash fighter pilot Alfred Jones. Unable to stop it, Arthur finds himself falling for Alfred's charms - just as the pilot is preparing to leave for war.
This story is the first of my ongoing Hetalia WW2 AU, the Veraverse. It stands on its own, however if you are interested, check out my profile page for other fics in the series.
Winter, late 1943
The Americans were starting to drive Arthur mad. For weeks now his London pub had been full of loud, obnoxious, carousing American servicemen on leave. They yelled, they drank, they fought occasionally, they drank, they flirted with the local girls, and they drank some more. Then they did it all over again. To begin with it was a vaguely interesting break in the same tedious old routine. By the end of the second night, Arthur had had enough.
To be honest, they were not all bad. They generally tried to be well behaved, they poured a lot of money into his pub, and after all, they were allies fighting a common enemy.
Truth be told, they weren't starting to drive Arthur mad at all.
"Hey, Art, buddy! Another bourbon here!"
Arthur looked up at the grinning blond holding his empty glass over the bar. Everything about the American irritated Arthur. The absurd bomber jacket he lived in. His perpetual grin. The way he never combed his bloody hair. And the arrogance… Arthur had not been the least bit surprised to learn he was a fighter pilot. Thought the whole bloody British Isle owed him their freedom and allegiance. Arthur gritted his teeth and snatched the glass.
"My name is Arthur. And kindly refrain from calling me your buddy." Arthur reached for the bourbon. Ghastly American stuff. He barely went through a bottle a year before the war. Since the Americans turned up, he went through a carton a night.
"All right, sorry Art. Thur." Alfred grinned. He was obviously used to getting his way with that grin… but it bloody well wasn't going to work with Arthur. "Come have a drink with us."
Arthur clenched the bottle a little too strongly as he poured it into the glass. "Thank you, but no. I'm working."
Alfred just laughed at that. "I thought you owned the damn place. Let someone else pour the drinks for a while. Take a load off."
Another irritating thing. That ridiculous accent. Alfred seemed able to stretch every word into seven syllables. Arthur suppressed his irritation, pushed the glass across the bar, and attempted to be polite. He had a reputation as a gentleman to uphold, after all. "Thank you again, but I'm afraid I'm run off my feet with all you soldiers."
"Soldiers?" Alfred gasped loudly and put a hand to his chest in mock outrage. "Why Arthur, you wound me! Don't you know that I'm…"
"The youngest flight leader in all US Army Air Fighter divisions," Arthur finished for him monotonously. "This must be the - twelfth, I believe it is - time you have informed me of the fact."
Alfred just kept grinning as he took a swig of bourbon. "Well, don't you go forgetting it and calling me a soldier. That's an insult to a man, that is."
Arthur shook his head as he glared at the American. The arrogance was unfathomable. "I do apologise," he said sarcastically. "Will you ever forgive me."
Alfred leant fervently across the bar. "Don't be like that Arthur, of course I'll forgive you!" Arthur rolled his eyes, but Alfred did not seem to notice. "Hey, I know, make it up to me by having that drink with us, yeah?"
"I already told you, I'm working." Alfred's face fell just slightly. Arthur felt the tiniest stab of guilt, and could not stop himself adding, "Maybe another time." It was the sixth time this week he had given that answer, but Alfred still brightened at the words.
"Well all right, I'll see you later then! I look forward to having that drink with ya." Alfred winked, picked up his bourbon, and sauntered back to his table.
Arthur let out a deep breath. He turned and placed the bourbon back on the shelf, took a cloth from beneath the bar, and began wiping the bar top vigorously. Arthur had never dealt with something like this before. Customers asked him for drinks, he served them. None of them ever asked him to join them – hell, most of them barely spared a word for him. Yet this American pilot had bothered him every night for a week: coming to the bar for constant refills, chatting inanely, telling stupid jokes and bragging wildly. Arthur could not understand it.
Of course, a tiny, hopeful part of his brain held the smallest suspicion - but no. Arthur had spent too long suppressing that secret part of himself. The reason he had no close friends, the reason his brothers hated him; the reason he cut himself off from society, the reason even his country's armed services refused to accept him. He had learnt from his past mistakes, and knew better than to see his own secret wishes and desires where actually there was nothing. But then, what was it about this bloody Yank? Why did he keep asking Arthur to drink with him? Why did he keep looking over at Arthur behind the bar and waving? Why did he have to grin like that? And why the bloody hell did it affect Arthur so much when he did?
Arthur risked a glance over at the pilot's table. He always sat at the same one, by the second front window, with that other fellow who looked so much like him that Arthur wondered if they were brothers. Sure enough, Alfred was looking right at him. And grinning. Arthur quickly looked down. This was preposterous. He ran a hand over his heated forehead and felt it burning red. Throwing the cloth down, Arthur stormed over to the other side of the busy pub. Surely there must be some empty glasses to pick up.
An elderly regular nodded to him as he passed. "How are you dealing with all these bleedin' Yanks, Arthur?"
Arthur gave a short laugh then backed into a table to avoid a drunk soldier stumbling past. "It's keeping me on my feet, I can tell you that much."
The old man threw the soldier a dirty look. "Ah well, chin up, eh? Don't even know why we need them here, it's not as though our boys can't take on the Jerry's without them!"
"Rather," agreed Arthur, nodding acknowledgment to a group of loud Americans signalling for service.
"Ah well my lad, with the way things are shaping up on the continent it won't be long before they're out of your hair, I imagine."
"I can hardly wait." Why did Arthur not even know if he meant it? His eyes flashed fleetingly towards Alfred's table before he quickly turned to serve the table of rowdy soldiers.
A few hours later, with the place thankfully somewhat quieter, Arthur finally had a chance to wipe down the vacant tables and collect empty glasses. He did have a few staff, but they only worked occasionally, and Arthur barely even knew their names. He preferred to do most of the work here himself. This was his pub, after all. The Emerald Lion. It wasn't much, but it was his entire life; it was everything he knew. The long bar that ran across the room, the old wooden tables and chairs that had never been replaced. The huge fireplace and its ornate mantelpiece. The ancient brick walls; the creaky narrow staircases that led down to the cold, dark cellar and up to his cosy, familiar living area. Arthur knew every part of this place like his own body. It had always been a family business, but Arthur was the last family member left here now. He felt it his duty to do as much as possible on his own.
Arthur headed back to the bar, glancing around the room as he went. Most of the patrons left were locals. The more intoxicated Americans had already been dragged back to base, but a few remained to have a few quiet drinks before close. Including Alfred. Arthur tried to avoid looking his way, but could not ignore the loud voice that called to him as he walked past the American's table.
"Arthur, buddy, how about you finally come have that drink you promised?"
"I promised no such…" Arthur trailed off, faced with Alfred's pleading expression. He sighed. This could not be a good idea… "Very well then. One moment." Arthur went to the bar, deposited the empty glasses in the sink, and poured himself a small glass of rum. After all, the place was fairly quiet. Maybe this would finally stop Alfred's constant requests, as well as put Arthur's own curiosities to rest. Alfred was obviously just a friendly young guy who treated everyone like this.
Arthur sat down at the table, taking the seat closest to the bar. He half hoped for a patron to approach it for a drink, giving him an excuse to leave. Much to his annoyance, he was far too nervous sitting this close to Alfred.
"I knew I'd convince you eventually," said Alfred cheerfully.
Arthur glared at him. "You don't give up, do you?"
The man by Alfred's side chuckled softly. "You've no idea," he said quietly.
Alfred slapped the man on the shoulder and grinned at Arthur. "Arthur, this is Lieutenant Matthew Williams."
Arthur nodded at Matthew. He really did look remarkably like Alfred. "Pleased to meet you."
"Evening. Lovely pub you have here." Matthew was so quiet Arthur could barely hear him.
"Thank you. Are you a pilot as well, Lieutenant?" Arthur figured that since he was sitting here, he may as well be polite. And besides, it was probably safer to make conversation with Matthew than Alfred.
"Matt's my wingman!" Alfred interrupted loudly. "That means he gets to watch while I do all the heroic stuff."
"No, it means I cover your butt from attack and try to make sure you don't do anything stupid. Like get yourself killed."
"Matthew, when have I ever done anything stupid?"
Matthew just blinked at Alfred silently for a moment before Arthur cut in. "Um, so sorry to be rude, but you two aren't…"
"Related?" Alfred shook his head, laughing. "Nah. Pure coincidence. Confuses the hell out of some of the superiors, I tell ya what. Finally made Matt grow his hair so they can tell us apart."
Matthew rolled his eyes. "It doesn't help that they never believe me when I tell them who I am. 'Matthew Williams' I say and it's always, 'Who?' Damned frustrating, eh?"
Alfred leant over and whispered to Arthur. "Never mind him, he's Canadian, eh?" Arthur leant away slightly when he felt the warm breath on his ear.
"I heard that," said Matthew.
"You're Canadian?" asked Arthur, taking a fortifying gulp of rum and forcing himself to focus on Matthew. Alfred was not making it easy.
Matthew started to reply but Alfred cut him off. "Oh, not anymore, he joined the good guys long ago. No longer a subject of the British Empire, eh, Matt?" Arthur narrowed his eyes slightly and Alfred quickly added, "Not, of course, that there's anything wrong with that."
"Just because I am currently flying in your Air Force does not mean that I am an American, Alfred," said Matthew with a frown. "I still consider myself Canadian."
Alfred raised his hands placatingly. "Hey, hey, as do we all." He rolled his eyes at Arthur. "He never lets us forget it. Lives on maple syrup, carries little polar bears around…"
Arthur furrowed his brow. "Carries polar bears?"
"Ah yes, this here…" Matthew unpinned a tiny fluffy white bear from one of his lapels. "…is Kumabaro. He's my lucky mascot."
"I thought his name was Kumajiro?" asked Alfred.
Matthew shrugged. "Something like that. Anyway, we all have one… a lucky charm that is. Except for Alfred."
"Oh?" Arthur could not help being curious. "Why don't you have one?"
"Well, it has to be something special. And nothing's ever turned up. But hey, never needed one before. I'm alive, ain't I?" Alfred raised his glass and drained it.
"I'll drink to that," said Matthew, draining his also. Arthur thought he had better follow suit.
"Now we're dry here… hey, barkeep!" Alfred shouted before turning to Arthur. "Oh wait…" He laughed raucously. Arthur was still not used to that laugh. It was the most boisterous, unique laugh he had ever heard. Usually half the pub turned and looked whenever Alfred let loose with it.
"Amusing," said Arthur, unsmiling. "Very well then, I suppose I'd better bring the bottle."
An hour later and Arthur had consumed far more alcohol than was wise while he was still working. At least the pub had quieted down even further, with only a handful of Americans still remaining. Matthew had left twenty minutes earlier - something about needing to oil an engine, Arthur couldn't remember - after Alfred spent a couple of minutes winking at him. What was with all this winking? It must be an American thing.
It felt a little odd to be sitting with the man who had been driving him to distraction for a week now. Sure, Alfred was arrogant and loud and, well, American, but he wasn't all that bad, Arthur supposed. Just very confident and perhaps a bit naive. But still rather irritating.
"And we're doing this for justice, you know, I wouldn't be here otherwise. We're fighting for freedom here, for what's right. We can't just let the powers of evil and tyranny take over while we stand willing and able to prevent it." Alfred gestured strongly as he continued his oration. He had been going solidly for ten minutes now. "It's just…" He paused to search for an adjective. "…un-American."
"Right, right. And where were you Americans two years ago?" Arthur muttered around his glass as he took a sip.
Arthur waved his hand dismissively. Alfred seemed to know nothing about the war that had been raging without the Americans for years now. "Nothing." He grasped for a way to change the subject. "How long have you been flying?"
Alfred's face lit up immediately. "I used to go up with my dad as a kid. He was a delivery pilot you know, flew all over the country. Flew a De Havilland DH4, beautiful old plane. I still remember the feeling I got when I first went up with him." Alfred's face was vibrant as he spoke animatedly. "It was, well, really exciting, you know? Like that feeling you get when something is really intense and sort of terrifying and breathtaking and fantastic and you're a little nervous but you never want it to end. Know what I mean?"
Arthur didn't, but he couldn't help but be captivated by the smile on Alfred's face and the look of joy in his bright, blue eyes. "Sounds awfully nerve-racking to me, I'm afraid."
Alfred laughed softly and looked into his drink. "Ah, it's hard to explain. But it's my life. Signed up for the Air Force as soon as I turned eighteen, and before you know it, here I am in England, fighting in a war! Life can be damned odd sometimes."
"Certainly…" Arthur trailed off uncertainly. "Wait. How old are you?"
"Nineteen. Why, how old are you?"
"I… er…" Arthur hadn't realised Alfred was so young. Suddenly he felt like an old man. "Never mind."
"Oh no, you have to tell me now!" said Alfred, putting his glass down and leaning in eagerly. "Are you really old?"
"No!" said Arthur indignantly. "I'm just no longer a teenager."
"That's okay, I like older men." Alfred did that bloody winking thing.
Arthur stared blankly, shocked. Surely he couldn't mean… Arthur forced himself to respond. "I'm twenty-three if you must know. Though it is awfully impolite to ask."
Alfred laughed, high and cheerful and raucous as ever. "Hey, you asked me first, Arthur."
Bollocks. So he had. "Well. Either way. Really, nineteen?"
Alfred nodded cheerfully.
"Right. Fine. Jolly good." Arthur finished his glass, embarrassed. He barely noticed Alfred fill it up, looking up at Arthur with sparkling eyes and a tiny smile.
"So Arthur, you got a girlfriend? A wife hanging round here somewhere?"
"What?" Arthur was quickly losing track of the conversation. "No."
Alfred winked. "Didn't think so."
Arthur gasped indignantly, then felt a small flush of fear. Could he have been too friendly? Could he have been too obvious? Could Alfred know… "Just what the hell is that…"
"Here, let me show you a picture of my girl," interrupted Alfred.
Arthur felt his fear and anger dissipate as his heart sank. He was surprised at the intensity of the feeling. He told himself not to be ridiculous. Of course Alfred wasn't, well… like him. He silently upbraided himself for even daring to think it. Of course Alfred had a girlfriend. He was too handsome not to. Wait, when did he stop being irritating and become handsome? Arthur decided it must have been sometime after the fourth drink. Besides, it wasn't like he cared. "Oh. Very well, let's see."
Alfred pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, took out a small battered photo, and passed it to Arthur. "That's her."
Arthur looked at the photo and blinked a few times. "Um. It's a plane."
"Hey, hey, that ain't just any old plane. She's a P-51 Mustang, her name's Lady Beth, and she's beautiful, ain't she?"
Arthur tilted his head. It still just looked like a plane. "Yes, yes quite, uh, beautiful. I just… well, I thought you were talking about your girlfriend."
Alfred laughed again. He laughed so readily, so easily. "Oh Arthur, Arthur. Beth is the only lady who'll ever have my heart." He looked up slowly, smirked slightly, and winked again.
Oh. Oh. Bollocks. Arthur was stunned. He had no way to react to that, so he just drank quickly and hoped Alfred didn't notice his burning cheeks. Then he quickly glanced around, realised they were the last two in the pub, and started to stand. "Looks like closing time."
"Hey, come now, how about one more drink to round off the night?" Alfred grinned pleadingly up at him. His eyes were so blue, his expression so eager, his face so handsome when he smiled…
Arthur paused, wondered very briefly if this was a good idea, then sat back down slowly. Surely one more couldn't hurt.
One hour later…
"And ANOTHER thing," Arthur shouted. "Is it so bloody hard to use the letter 'u'? 'Color,' 'honor,' bloody… bloody, uh, 'flavor'…" Arthur trailed off and tried to locate his drink on the table. The bloody thing kept moving. Finding it, he took a deep sip and continued. "And so on and so forth… don't even get me STARTED on the letter 's'. Where do you Yanks get off butchering proper English spelling?"
"Well, um, I'm no grammar expert, but…"
"And BASEBALL!" Arthur shouted, swinging his drink and barely noticing half of it land on Alfred. "How the hell do you play baseball? It makes no bloody sense!"
"I'll explain baseball to you, if you explain cricket to me," said Alfred, wiping the rum from his shirt.
"Hey, hey," said Arthur, wagging a finger at Alfred, or in his general direction. Alfred kept moving as well. "Nothing wrong with the great game of cricket. Tradition. Gentleman's game. Sport of Kings."
"I thought that was horse racing."
Arthur waved a hand. "Sport of, sport of Princes then. Dukes. Sport of Baronets at the very least." Noticing his drink was empty, Arthur reached for the bottle. It suddenly disappeared. "Hey…"
"Maybe you've had enough."
Arthur glared at Alfred through bleary eyes. "I own a bloody pub, I'll tell you when I've had enough! And, and, the other thing. You know, the thing."
"Yes, that thing. It's stupid. Oh, and your food is terrible. Don't you agree, Matthew?"
"Uh, Matthew's not here anymore."
Arthur squinted at the identical blonde next to Alfred. "Who's the chap next to you then?"
"All right, seeing double, it's time to go to bed."
"What? Hey!" Suddenly the ground flew away from him. It took Arthur a few seconds to realise he was lying over Alfred's shoulder. "HEY! What is the meaning of this? Who the hell do you think you are?"
"Where's your bedroom?"
Arthur gasped indignantly even as his cheeks burned. "I'm not telling you that!"
"I don't even know what sort of man you are!"
"I assure you, I'm a perfect gentleman."
"No you're not, you're an American. Ah… blimey, how did we end up upstairs?"
"Never mind. Where's your room?"
"At the end of the thing. The whatsit. The hall. I'm warning you, Yank, I'm tougher than I look!"
Was Alfred laughing? Arthur tried to kick him in indignation. The next thing he knew he was being tossed onto his bed. Arthur glanced around at his familiar white walls, green curtains, and sparse furnishings.
"Gosh… how did I get here?"
"Magic," said Alfred, grinning down at Arthur.
"That thing! There! That bloody grin! Why do you always grin like that?"
Alfred just kept doing it. "Does it bother you?"
Arthur could feel his shoes being pulled off. Why was Alfred pulling his shoes off… "No," he said huffily. "Actually, it… makes me…feel…" Sinking into the soft pillow beneath him, Arthur could not keep his eyes open anymore. He sighed deeply as they drifted shut. The last thing he felt before falling asleep was a light kiss to his forehead. But he may have imagined it.